Since the late 1970s and until about a decade ago, Larry Agran served as the most beloved liberal politician in the heart of California's Ronald Reagan-style conservatism, Orange County. Democratic Party activists cherished his words and followed him around as loyal disciples. Lefty academics hailed him as a refreshing political reformer dedicated to good, honest government.
But 2004 ended up being a watershed year for Agran, who'd fought Bill Clinton for the 1992 Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States. Having become the undisputed boss of a political machine that controlled the City of Irvine, his deep character flaws revealed themselves to his close political and personal allies: journalist Will Swaim, then my editor here at the Weekly, UC Irvine professor and onetime an Agran-appointed city planning commission chairman Mark Petracca and defense lawyer Chris Mears.
Swaim allowed me to investigate and uncover numerous, corrupt Agran moves involving shenanigans with public funds and backroom, sweetheart deals for his pals.
Mears, who'd been a member of Agran's 3-2 city council majority and a man who'd once chewed me out for questioning their ethics, quit the machine in disgust and told me on the record, "[Agran's] a man who has completely lost his perspective on what it means to be a public servant."
Petracca–one of the county's most respected political observers and a man admired across the political spectrum for his blunt, principled assessments–painfully admitted that he'd vote for Republican council candidates in Irvine over Agran because, at least, he didn't "question their honesty and their integrity."
Throughout the spectacle, Agran angrily portrayed himself as the victim of a smear campaign and even issued legal threats against anyone who dared provide information and quotes to me about what was increasingly obvious a cesspool, especially in plans to build The Orange County Great Park, one of the state's largest, public works projects.
That gross situation–reporters uncovering government malfeasance and Agran nonetheless perfecting the art of political thievery–existed for 12 years until 2013, when Republicans finally took control of Irvine.
Over the high-pitched squeals of Agran and his robotic council sidekick, Beth Krom, the new majority ordered an independent audit to answer a question the Democratic political machine didn't want answered: How did Agran spend more than $200 million in Great Park funds, but yet after more than eight years of alleged planning there was (and is) no park?
Late yesterday, the well-respected financial forensics team at Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro Accountants (HSNO) issued a scathing, 50-page audit report that should be Agran's political obituary.
In a just world, the HSNO audit also would be the alarm to finally awaken all the investigatory bodies that have for years oddly ignored mounting evidence of Agran's corruption: the FBI, California Attorney General's office, U.S. Department of Justice, Tony Rackauckas' Orange County District Attorney's office and the Orange County Grand Jury.
Page after page of the audit reveals how Agran, Krom and their bureaucrats shamelessly treated hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds as their own money. They repeatedly botched park planning, hid spending from other elected officials, hired cronies, doctored public records, concocted shell games, inflated sweetheart deals, lied to the public about the success of park planning and wasted tens of millions of dollars through sheer incompetence. Perhaps most troubling, they essentially used the park piggy bank as their re-election treasuries.
We previously knew Agran handed Arnold Forde–his private political adviser and, by the way, a Rackauckas pal–a $100,000 a month, no bid contract to perform public relations for a park that didn't exist.
Thanks to the audit we now also know that Agran funneled another $50,000 a month deal as well as a third lucrative contract to Forde.
Here's one reason there's now almost no money left to build the Great Park and what Forde's bank account looked like thanks to his ties to the Agran machine:
If you're not yet crying, consider this fact uncovered by the audit: While Agran handed Forde all the questionable, sweetheart deals, he was also spending another $17,000 a month in public funds for alleged park PR to Democratic Party operative George Urch and still another $7,500 a month to lobbyist Christopher Townsend, another Democratic operative who owns a PR firm.
Let's do the shocking math: When in control of the city and the Great Park, Agran was giving at least $174,500 a month in taxpayer funds to his own political operatives.
Hello, Mr. and Mrs. FBI agents? What does it take to wake up you folks?
There could be more hanky panky because the operatives refused to be questioned by the auditors and through Sean Joyce, the city manager hired by Agran's machine in January 2005, city staffers blocked the inquiry from following the money trail at key junctures.
Read the audit in its entirety below.