A report investigating allegations of corruption in Malibu has determined the accusations are false and that the credibility of the source is questionable.

Former Malibu Councilman Jefferson Wagner filed an affidavit in December of 2020 alleging multiple instances of wrongdoing by officials and staff within the city. The council hired an outside law firm to investigate and made their findings public this week.

“To the extent that the Affidavit purports to reveal corrupt acts (such as an offer to pay or the payment of bribes, or providing services or official functions or actions based on favors or illegal inducements), the allegations are incorrect, untruthful and/or not substantiated by the information obtained by the undersigned counsel,” said the report prepared by special council Evan A. Jenness and George B. Newhouse, Jr.

The attorneys interviewed 28 witnesses, reviewed written materials, litigated a motion to unseal materials related to certain allegations in the affidavit, reviewed publicly available records and media pertaining to select matters, and analyzed potentially applicable laws, regulations and other authorities.

Wagner alleged that a contractor had attempted to bribe him over a City Hall construction contract, that the City government acted improperly in the construction of a crosswalk adjacent to the Malibu Beach Inn, abuse of governmental authority regarding renewal of the former City Manager’s contract, retaliatory actions against him over his actions and a general belief in corruption within Malibu’s government.

According to the report, none of the five issues raised are true.

Jenness and Newhouse strongly refute the first accusation.

“There are many reasons why the allegation, the essence of the Wagner Affidavit, are unworthy of belief. Substantial evidence does not support, and indeed refutes, the allegation for the following reasons,” they said.

They cite a lack of corroborating witnesses, Wagner’s inability to provide basic information about the bribe, Wagner’s lack of follow through on his alleged complaint, a lack of law enforcement involvement, documents showing Wagner’s timeline was impossible and inconsistent details provided by Wagner during different conversations.

In his second allegation, Wagner accused a pair of local developers and city staff of colluding to bypass city regulations. However, the report stated the construction was entirely outside City purview and while unusual, it was not corrupt.

“As noted, we found no evidence materially corroborating Wagner’s insinuation that City personnel, including but not limited to former City Manager Feldman, or Mani Brothers, engaged in any inappropriate activity (including bribes, pay-offs, illicit inducements, threats or improper favoritism) regarding the crosswalk. Multiple witnesses described the process by which the crosswalk was installed, and none was aware of any evidence of wrongful conduct by City personnel (or Mani Brothers). The publicly available agreement by which the crosswalk was approved by the Coastal Commission corroborates that permission by the City was not required for its installation,” said the report.

Wagner makes two accusations against former City Manager Reva Feldman alleging improper influence was put on the council to extend her contract and that she orchestrated a law enforcement raid of his home in retaliation for his vote against her contract.

Feldman ultimately left her position with a $300,000 buyout after alleging a hostile work environment over actions by Wagner and councilman Bruce Silverstein. Silverstein had campaigned on a platform of removing Feldman from her position and was involved in creating Wagner’s affidavit.

The report said both accusations regarding Feldman were unsubstantiated. They said nothing untoward occurred during Feldman’s contract negotiations, accusations of inappropriate lobbying lacked any evidence and the search of Wagner’s property was the result of a preexisting investigation (no criminal charges resulted from the search).

The report dismissed Wagner’s final accusation of miscellaneous corruption.

“Finally, Wagner offers a host of other allegations of corruption in Malibu. These go unsubstantiated because Wagner could not provide corroboration, or could not (or would not) provide credible leads for us to follow regarding the claims, or because they are overly general in nature and thus could not serve as grounds for further investigation,” said the report.

The lawyers also take issue with the way the affidavit was produced citing a lack of transparency about Councilman Silverstein’s participation and ultimately a lack of cohesion in the different stories about its writing.

“Wagner’s Affidavit does not state that it was prepared with the assistance of counsel or any other third party,” said the report. “When the Affidavit was made public, neither Wagner nor Councilmember Silverstein disclosed that Silverstein was involved in its preparation. The omission is particularly noticeable because Paragraph 4 of the Affidavit otherwise describes Wagner’s views of Silverstein and their relationship. Subsequently, Wagner and Silverstein gave Counsel differing descriptions of the way in which the Affidavit was prepared. This further impairs the Affidavit’s credibility.”

Silverstein said he is pleased the investigation gave Malibu a clean bill of health and while believes the report should conclude the matter, he doesn’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions made.

“To say I believe the investigating lawyers were experienced and independent also does not mean that I believe they were unbiased,” he said in a statement. “Although one of the two investigating lawyers served as a prosecutor at an early stage of his career, it is a fact that both of the investigating lawyers are criminal defense lawyers, and the contents of the Report and Interview Notes suggest to me that the investigating lawyers’ analyses and assessment of the evidence and witness statements was infected by a certain level of defense bias – a bias that has been identified by some residents after reading the Report without the benefit of the Interview Notes.”

Jenness and Newhouse do not recommend any further action on the issue given the lack of evidence supporting the claims.

“We agree that the issues raised in the Wagner Affidavit are serious and deserve the attention of Malibu’s leadership,” they said. “However, to the extent that the Affidavit alleges corruption by City personnel and/or officials, our investigation has established that such allegations are incorrect in nearly all material respects and/or unsubstantiated. Wagner’s motives and credibility also are in serious doubt.”

editor@smdp.com