Lots of innuendo but little substance in ‘Los Angeles’ magazine article

ALL BARK, NO BITE: Some stories are so bad they’re good. Some stories are too good to be true. The harrowing 4,000-word expose written by screenwriter-turned-journalist Mitchell Kriegman in the most recent Los Angeles magazine on cannabis-induced corruptions in Santa Barbara, it turns out, are both. The article is, undeniably, an excellent read. Unfortunately, it is also false in its very essence.

The article – “In Sleepy Santa Barbara, a City Hall Insider Raises Eyebrows” – is an indefensible play of warts and all across the landscape of Santa Barbara city politics in which dirt is delightfully dished on Mayor Cathy Murillo, City Administrator Paul Casey, City Attorney Ariel Calonne and former Police Chief Lori Luhnow.

SBPD PIO Anthony Wagner | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

But most of the dirt is dumped on Luhnow’s right-hand man, Anthony Wagner, whom Kriegman portrays as bully, jester and trickster – a civil servant who rigged the bridge on behalf of his former business partner to secure one of three lucrative cannabis dispensary licenses. The partner then flipped it, making millions in untold profits.

People were appalled. “How could this happen?” they demanded.

Good question. The short answer: it doesn’t.

If Mitchell Kriegman had only picked up the phone, he might have found out. He did not do it.

Instead, in response to my question, he said he emailed “all parties affected by the article…well before publication, many times more than one…. Questions were also submitted directly and a request for interviews and comments was also made. No one responded,” he said.

Kriegman got one thing right; Wagner is a great story. It’s a big man gulp that packs a lot of carbonation. He talks big; he wears big shoes and loud socks. But Wagner walks on his toes.

Before moving here from San Diego in 2017 to work with now-retired Chief Luhnow, Wagner had never been a cop, or even worked for a police department. It was strange. Even stranger, Luhnow cannibalized the deputy chief position to pay Wagner’s salary. Unsurprisingly, many cops never cared about Wagner.

Wagner’s work experience was as a San Diego planning commissioner and as a land use consultant specializing in the conversion of farmland into integrated cannabis operations. His partner in that consulting firm was a man named Micah Anderson, who in Kriegman’s account plays the “smoking gun” role. Anderson, it’s important to note, is now a major cannabis supplier statewide.

When Santa Barbara City Hall solicited competitive bids for three cannabis licenses in 2018, five evaluators were chosen, approved by City Administrator Casey, from fire departments, planning, administration, attorney and city police. Wagner was the group’s public spokesperson. After all, he knew the industry. Together, these five nominees each ranked the candidates based on their respective areas of expertise. Wagner, for example, ranked candidates’ security plans.

Kriegman focused on the license obtained by Golden State Greens, a very successful dispensary in San Diego owned by a guy named Adam Knopf. Wagner knew Knopf from the days of the San Diego Planning Commission when he voted to approve a Knopf cannabis project.

Knopf’s proposal – for a dispensary near State Street and Ontare Road – would be one of three finalists to win the Santa Barbara cannabis beauty contest. Knopf obtained all necessary building permits, but he never built the dispensary or opened the business. Instead, he took advantage of a dodgy provision in Santa Barbara’s cannabis ordinance that allowed him to sell his licenses for millions to a Florida-based operator.

Lost in the flurry of Kriegman’s many innuendos is a real explosive accusation. Kriegman alleges that former Wagner business partner Micah Anderson was a partner of Knopf in his Santa Barbara dispensary project. If true, it would mean that Wagner helped assess the project of a former business partner. This, in any book, is a major conflict of interest. Wagner’s failure to disclose such a fox-coop relationship would be grounds for immediate termination and possibly legal action.

Acting Police Chief Barney Melekian placed Wagner on paid administrative leave on Monday so that an outside entity hired by City Hall can investigate Anderson’s role in the deal and determine whether Wagner failed to disclose. any conflict to his superiors.

I covered the dispensary screening process and I have no recollection of Micah Anderson. His name does not appear on any of the documents. If Kriegman had spoken to Wagner, Wagner would have told him – as he told me – that Anderson had absolutely nothing to do with the case.

If he had called Anderson, Anderson would have told him the same thing. I know because I called Anderson on Tuesday night. Anderson said he had nothing to do with the Santa Barbara deal and had no business relationship with Adam Knopf or Golden State Greens elsewhere. Anderson said he and Knopf tried to get a dispensary approved in Pasadena a year after Knopf won the Santa Barbara dispensary, but Pasadena’s proposal did not survive the vetting stage.

Anderson also said he had never been contacted by anyone in connection with the Los Angeles magazine article either by phone, email or text message. “It’s a bit unusual,” he said. ” You do not think ?

Kriegman wrote that he tried to contact Wagner by email, but Wagner never responded. Wagner flatly denied this, insisting that Kriegman never tried to contact him even though Wagner gave him his cell phone number and email address.

The reason I believe Wagner is because Wagner is one of the most accessible people in city government. Kriegman also wrote that he had sought comments from the Calonne city prosecutor, but was unsuccessful. Calonne said Kriegman sent him an email asking for comments for an article Kriegman said he had already written. Calonne said he saw no point in responding. Calonne showed me the email.

Kriegman now lives in Portugal. He’s a gifted screenwriter. The moral of the story? Don’t send a screenwriter to do a journalist’s job.