Genevieve Finn , Malibu Times/SMDP Staff Writer
In December 2020, former Malibu City Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner announced an affidavit that detailed alleged corruption within the City of Malibu. Those implicated in the allegations have denied any wrongdoing and, eight weeks out, evidence has not yet emerged to back up Wagner’s claims.
Among those was the allegation that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, current Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman, and Simon and Daniel Mani (Mani Brothers), the real estate moguls who own Malibu Beach Inn, were tangled up in a 2018 dirty deal.
A representative of the Mani Brothers has since issued a statement to The Malibu Times responding to those allegations. Feldman has also replied via statements from her attorney, Therese Cannata.
Back in 2018, a new crosswalk was installed on PCH by contractors for the Malibu Beach Inn, a property the Mani Brothers acquired from business magnate David Geffen in 2015 for a record price. The roadwork angered locals who were stuck in 45 minutes’ worth of traffic.
TMT’s reporting from 2018 said that the construction of the crosswalk was required by a 30-year-old California Coastal Commission deal to facilitate public beach access that was only made good decades later in 2018.
Wagner’s affidavit alleged it was at the behest of the Mani Brothers “in order to facilitate the possible addition of a pool to the hotel and accommodate the required additional parking for the 40 plus rooms,” the document stated.
The affidavit went on to say that Villaraigosa, who was then running to be the Democratic candidate for governor of California, called Wagner in 2018. Allegedly, the pair spoke on the phone about two things: Feldman’s upcoming salary negotiation and the Mani Brothers.
Villaraigosa mentioned a campaign contribution from the real estate moguls, Wagner wrote, pointing out that they had also donated to Wagner’s reelection campaign. In a phone interview with TMT, Wagner elaborated that he found the tone of the conversation “very informational and very pleasant.”
The crosswalk was constructed with no council vote. Wagner’s affidavit said that the project was not submitted to the city’s planning or public works commissions, nor city council.
“Instead, it is my understanding that the matter was handled by the city staff, who perform under the supervision … of the Malibu city manager,” Wagner wrote. At the time, the city issued a statement that the project was directly under the purview of Caltrans.
A statement issued to TMT from the Mani Brothers’ representatives echoed the city’s statement.
“It is important to clarify that the crosswalk to which Mr. Wagner referred was approved by the California Coastal Commission and was constructed by the California Transit Authority (Caltrans)—a decision in which, to our knowledge, Mr. Wagner was not involved,” the statement said.
The brothers’ representative also wrote the moguls were surprised and dismayed at the insinuation that Villaraigosa leaned on Wagner to get the crosswalk and parking lot approved on their behalf.
“We did not ask former Mayor Villaraigosa to call any Malibu city official nor did we have any knowledge of the alleged conversation between Mr. Wagner and Mr. Villaraigosa involving our organization. We are certainly disheartened to hear of any insinuations to the contrary,” the statement said.
As for the parking lot, the Mani Brothers said they had applied for the right to park vehicles off-site in 2015, but that to this day they have not been granted that permission.
The statement also said that the $50,000 the Mani Brothers gave to Villaraigosa was to fund a LA Unified School District-related nonprofit, and “was in no way a contribution to any political campaign.”
Villaraigosa did not respond to interview requests from TMT, nor did his 2018 campaign manager, Eric Jaye.
During the same 2018 phone call Wagner described in his affidavit, Villaraigosa also allegedly checked with Wagner that everything was “good” with him on amending Feldman’s contract, which was up for an extension and/or salary increase. A “disturbed” Wagner reportedly would not commit to the salary increase.
“I told Mr. Villaraigosa that he would see how I vote on the Malibu City Manager’s contract when the issue comes up for discussion,” the affidavit stated.
Villaraigosa contacted two other Malibu City Council members, Skylar Peak and Rick Mullen, around the same time as his call with Wagner in 2018. Both Peak and Mullen told TMT they recalled being contacted but neither said they spoke with Villaraigosa about either the Mani Brothers or Feldman’s contract.
Peak said that he received a voicemail from Villaraigosa but that the two never connected.
Mullen summarized his recollection of his call with Villaraigosa.
“Congrats on getting elected to council,” Mullen remembered Villaraigosa telling him. “Tell me what your concerns are. I love Malibu and I’m running for governor.”
Wagner told TMT that he had never spoken to Villaraigosa again after the 2018 call. He also said he never spoke to either Peak or Mullen about the phone call because it would have violated the Brown Act, which barrs elected officials from discussing some topics privately.
Feldman did get her salary increase and contract extension; Wagner was the only dissenting vote.
Two days after the vote, Wagner’s home was raided by police who had a search warrant signed by then-LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
Wagner emphasized in his interview that this was actually the second time deputies had come to his home unannounced. The first time, the deputies had not had a search warrant. Wagner’s longtime girlfriend Candace Brown let them in and gave them a tour. Wagner had not been home.
Neither raid turned up anything, according to the former council member.
“If you have nothing to hide … you let them in and you don’t argue and you don’t call attorneys. That’s what I did and I was resolved of any wrongdoing,” Wagner told TMT.
Wagner’s affidavit insinuated the raid happened at the behest of Feldman and Villaraigosa, describing Lacey as “a politician with known ties to Mr. Villaraigosa.”
In his affidavit, Wagner drew a connection between Villaraigosa and Feldman: “Although Mr. Villaraigosa did not state the reason for his interest in the City Manager’s contract, it has been publicly reported that the Malibu City Manager has a relationship with a close relative of Mr. Villaraigosa.”
Wagner told TMT that he linked the former mayor and city manager after the raid when people began to tell him about Feldman and Villaraigosa socializing together and emailed him photos of the two together at events.
In a statement emailed to TMT, Therese Cannata, an attorney who represents Feldman, denied the city manager had any contact with the former mayor.
“Ms. Feldman’s ex-boyfriend was a relative of Antonio Villaraigosa. That relationship ended acrimoniously in 2012. She’s had no personal or professional contact with that person, or any member of his family, for almost a decade,” Cannata wrote.
This story was published as part of a partnership between The Malibu Times and The Santa Monica Daily Press.