After almost 16 weeks the other shoe finally dropped. OC Senior Deputy District Attorney Raymond Armstrong sent me a letter saying they were closing their inquiry into Koreagate and that no further action would be taken.
I am still unsure what was actually done beyond quickly reading through the 15 to 20 documents provided as evidence in the complaint. Comments in Mr. Armstrong’s letter left more questions unanswered than answered.
I called his office to solicit more information on their process and ended up talking for some time to his associate SDDA Jaime Coulter. At the end of our conversation I understood the complexities in this case that would lead them to the conclusion that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Letting the results be known.
What follows is my email to Marty Simonoff and Roy Moore (the only Council members interested in getting to the truth) as well as to Armstrong and Coulter plus a couple of OCR staff writers whom I had promised to keep informed.
Marty & Roy…
My response from the OCDA is attached. I called and spoke with Mr. Armstrong’s associate, Jaime Coulter, and it is clear that their investigation fell short of what I had expected. It was, however, conducted in a manner consistent with the prosecutorial restraints under which I understand their office must operate.
Per Mr. Coulter, the OCDA’s determination that there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing and their dismissal of my complaint hinges on the necessity for them to be able to prove “criminal intent to defraud” (steal from the city) as part of a case for misappropriation of public funds.
Intent is one the most difficult matters to prove, except perhaps under the more liberal burden of proof required in civil court. It’s a shame that “stupid” isn’t against the law, but then we all might be in serious jeopardy.
While I am not happy with the outcome, I am satisfied… my lengthy conversation with Mr. Coulter helped me to have a deeper, more clear understanding of these legal processes.
Mr. Armstrong’s letter states, “This also appears to be an issue that the city council could adequately address.”
Unfortunately, those most likely to be effected by continued pursuit of this matter, those who would be required to reimburse the city, maintain a strangle hold with their three votes which allows them to impede any effort counter to their personal agendas.
The good news is that, through over three months of relentless pressure from me and others and the wisdom in Measure T, the city has implemented positive standards which will avert this sort of unethical behavior from happening again. Itineraries will be required, Council will formally approve foreign travel and, hopefully, a more robust and enforceable travel policy will be adopted soon.
It’s perfectly legal to be stupid.
I never suggested, from day one, that there was any malice in the hearts of those who made such an ignorant blunder. When the culprits were publicly taken to task by Lynn Daucher, Bev Perry, Glen Parker and others no one called them criminals. It was clear enough that the choices made by Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell were more idiotic and ethically unwise than criminal chicanery.
Regardless of what convinced Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell it would be okay to spend almost half of the city’s annual travel budget on a ten day excursion to Korea and Japan… no law was broken. No common sense was exercised either and almost 50 years of precedents were totally and conveniently ignored.
So, where do we go from here?
First, Council needs to finish the job of formalizing an enforceable travel policy. They reached agreement, by consensus, to require public approval by Council for all foreign travel and that a complete itinerary must be included in the travel request to verify the official nature and direct benefits of the trip.
This is a good start but is nowhere near a robust and enforceable travel policy. A more thorough policy needs to be drafted and approved, in resolution form, in a public session. Not the study session, which might as well be held behind closed doors for all the transparency it provides, but downstairs in front of the tv cameras.
Throughout this lengthy ordeal, virtually all who called, emailed or stopped me on the street to talk about this felt as I did that Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell should reimburse the city. I still feel that way, and with one swing vote a Council majority would agree. I’m not holding my breath.
And finally, November 2014 will give us an opportunity to elect candidates who will truly have the people’s will as their guide and reject those politicians who have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the public, taken every stipend and free chicken dinner they could and spent more time trying to build their legacy than maintain our community.