File M for Moron

Photo by Jack GouldMayor Dave Garofalo is pleading with the public, the press and his colleagues on the Huntington Beach City Council to end his “trial in the press” until investigating officials from the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) weigh in.

There's good reason for the mayor to expect a happy ending to that investigation: the FPPC has already cleared him once. Documents recently reviewed by the Weekly show the agency botched that investigation.

In an April 18 letter, the FPPC wrote that Garofalo's role in Pacific Liberty Bank did not constitute a conflict of interest—despite the fact that two developers with business before the city council were among Pacific Liberty's biggest financial backers.

The FPPC reached that conclusion, an agency staffer wrote, based on the fact that Garofalo and two other council members “reported their investment in Pacific Liberty Bank on their 1999 Annual Statement of Economic Interests.”

Astonishingly, however, the FPPC was looking at forms from the wrong year.

A copy of the FPPC investigation file, obtained by the Weekly through the California Public Records Act, clearly shows that the agency was scrutinzing the council members' forms for 2000, instead of 1999.

Garofalo and his council colleagues Shirley Dettloff and Pam Julien purchased Pacific Liberty stock in the spring of 1998. Garofalo, also a bank director, bought $50,000 worth of stock using a convoluted financing scheme involving $15,000 from his retirement fund and a $35,000 loan from a San Francisco-based bank that deals solely with bank officials. Dettloff and Julian bought just a few thousand dollars worth of stock. The investments should have been disclosed in the officials' 1999 personal-disclosure forms. That's exactly what Julien did. But neither Garofalo nor Dettloff made any mention of Pacific Liberty Bank on their 1999 forms.

Their failure to disclose their roles in the bank should have been easily discovered by agency investigators—the FPPC itself designed the personal disclosure forms. But the FPPC case file obtained by the Weekly shows the agency never received the critical 1999 forms. Instead, agency officials apparently reviewed disclosure forms for the following year. These statements, filed long after the stock purchases—and after stories in the Weekly and the The Orange County Register outlining the non-disclosure—were completely irrelevant to the investigation. Incredibly, the file also included numerous copies of OC Weekly, Huntington Beach Independent and Register stories outlining the bank controversy and the officials' non-disclosure.

FPPC spokeswoman Sigrid Bathen would say only, “We do not comment on complaints and investigations.”

Is it any wonder Garofalo wants the media to sit tight while the FPPC investigates?

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