Photo by Keith May"There's no difference between what I said and didn't say."
—HB Mayor Dave Garofalo, July 27
In a week when the LA Times called for his resignation, the district attorney said he'd be investigated and the grand jury promised to launch a probe of its own, Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo finally got some good news. Businessman Ed Laird called on Garofalo's friends to pack City Hall in a show of support for the embattled mayor.
"I've had it," Laird wrote on July 22 to an undisclosed list of recipients. "It's time we showed a little character. . . . Dave has been there for hundreds of local businessmen and women and thousands of local residents."
But most of all, it appears, Garofalo has been there for himself. As months of stories in the Weekly make clear and as several articles in the Times, Orange County Register and Huntington Beach Independent suggest, Garofalo has spent much of the past decade mixing politics and business. He is accused of soliciting advertising dollars from merchants with matters before the City Council, on which he has sat since 1994. A suspicious 1998 real-estate deal suggests that Garofalo may have received special treatment from Newport Beach developer Christopher Gibbs, a man with millions of dollars at stake in City Hall.
Laird dismisses the mayor's critics as a "dozen or so angry, hateful people." He urged his friends to rally for Garofalo at the council's Aug. 7 meeting.
With the help of his friends, Garofalo is good at such staged public events; at supermarket openings or in packed council chambers, he can control applause and debate. But on July 27, Garofalo held his first press conference on the charges. And press conferences, it turns out, are not supermarket openings: at one, you cut ribbons; at the other, it's assholes.
At this one, Garofalo brought the scissors.
In an attempt to rally, the mayor retained Steven Churchwell, a former Fair Political Practices Commission general counsel, as his attorney and held the press briefing in the education room at the Huntington Beach Boys & Girls Club. Beneath the American flag and next to a copy of the periodic table of the elements, Garofalo took a deep breath —and another run at explaining "exactly" his biggest controversy, his apparent $60,000 profit from his mysterious one-day ownership of a lavish ocean-view home on Poppy Hill Circle in Huntington Beach's gated St. Augustine neighborhood in the summer of 1998.
Garofalo's latest version of the sale of the house to gas-station millionaire George Pearson shares only one thing with his previous explanations: it contradicts much of what the mayor and Pearson have had to say on the subject so far. What follows is a Weekly guide to the mayor's ever-changing story about the house on Poppy Hill Circle:
HOW MANY HOUSES DOES A SINGLE GUY NEED? Garofalo has always maintained that he abandoned the idea of buying the house on Poppy Hill Circle when he found a smaller, less-expensive house on Main Street. At the press conference, Garofalo said, "Prior to going [to select a homesite on Poppy Hill Circle], I found another home I was going to live in." That other house was on Main Street. But documents show that Garofalo did not buy the house on Main Street until June 23, 1998—three months after he entered escrow on the house on Poppy Hill Circle. That raises another interesting question: How did Garofalo, who now acknowledges that he could not afford the home on Poppy Hill Circle, manage to persuade two separate sellers that he could afford two homes at the same time, with a total value of more than $800,000?
WHEN DID GEORGE PEARSON GET INVOLVED? In the July 27 press conference, Garofalo said he met "with Mr. Pearson before I selected the house." He said the meeting was a lunch at which the two discussed allowing Pearson to purchase the house in Garofalo's name. But on April 20, Pearson told the Weekly he came in well after Garofalo selected and bought the house on Poppy Hill Circle. "Dave had bought it, the house was in escrow, and he found another house he preferred, a smaller house," Pearson said. On April 28, Garofalo confirmed that version of events: the original home purchase "happened with no George involved," Garofalo told the Weekly, "but he became involved very soon after. You could say it was very soon after."
WHICH HOUSE DO YOU WANT? At the press conference, Garofalo told reporters that he knew before he even selected a homesite on Poppy Hill Circle that he would not live there. He was buying a house "that George [Pearson] wanted, and not me." But on April 20, Garofalo told the Weekly that he had always planned that the house on Poppy Hill Circle would be his "primary residence."
TOO RICH FOR HIS BLOOD? Garofalo's contradictory explanations of the timing of the deal and his intentions for the home are complicated by his equally contradictory estimates of his own wealth. At the press conference, Garofalo said he knew before he selected the home, "I couldn't afford it." But in April, he said he could have made the deal work—and intended for weeks after he selected the home in March to make it work. On April 28, Garofalo told the Weekly, "I was working on a program, with IRAs and other plans. If I really pushed myself, pushed the envelope—I probably wouldn't have done all the upgrades—if I did it as an investment. . . . Move in, sell in 14 months . . . I could have done it."
WHO'S PAYING? At the press conference, Garofalo insisted that he never used his own money to pay for the house on Poppy Hill Circle. But on April 20, Pearson said Garofalo bought the house, but Pearson "put up the money to finish escrow." Eight days later, on April 28, Garofalo acknowledged that he might have made a deposit of $5,000 on the home—about 1 percent of the property value. "I don't honestly know if I put $5,000 down and got it back from him [Pearson] later," Garofalo said.
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HOW MUCH PROFIT? Documents suggest that the house on Poppy Hill Circle was worth $565,000 in March 1998 when he got it from Gibbs. Other documents show that he sold that same house for $625,000 in July 1998. That would suggest a $60,000 profit. Garofalo has always insisted that the $60,000 difference can be accounted for by upgrades to the home while in escrow and that he made only a symbolic $1 on the sale of the home to Pearson. He repeated that claim in the press conference—where his attorney quickly corrected him. "I think what we're finding out now that we're crunching the numbers is there wasn't a profit of a dollar," said Churchwell. More than a dollar? Less? Nobody's saying. But in April, another number emerged when Garofalo told the Weekly that he could "validate everything but $5,000."
WHOSE UPGRADES? During the press conference, Garofalo insisted that Pearson had requested and paid for the upgrades to the home throughout escrow. But on April 28, Pearson told the Weekly that he began financing the house after the builder had "already put extras on the house. So we had to let [Garofalo] finish buying it, then quitclaim it to me."
WHY DOESN'T GAROFALO JUST GIVE US THE PAPERWORK HE INSISTS WOULD CLEAR HIS NAME? Here, finally, some consistency: self-pity and paranoia. "You paint me in a dark corner where I don't belong. My life is an open book; the story of my life has been published a half-dozen times in the past decade," Garofalo said on April 28. "I work with the cancer foundation. I've been president of the Chamber of Commerce. I go to church. I've had heart surgery. My son is a triple organ-transplant recipient. I work 12 to 14 hours per day. I raise hundreds of thousands of dollars [for good causes]." And on July 27, Garofalo was still clinging to his persecution complex. "There is an appearance of wrongdoing, and that appearance has given this incredibly violent, small, militant minority an unbelievable opportunity to tear me, personally, apart. And that's what this is about. And if anybody in this room thinks it's beyond that, then I think you've got to go out and read some more books."
Or just re-read that letter from Ed Laird, whose exhortation to his cronies to show up and defend Garofalo pivots on this X-Files storyline: "What they are doing to Dave today, they could do to you tomorrow."