This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.
By Tyler Hayden, The Independent
Santa Barbara’s Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian announced he’s contracted with a firm that specializes in investigating public safety agencies to look into conflict-of-interest allegations in an article published by Los Angeles magazine against Anthony Wagner, the department’s public information officer and community relations advisor.
The article alleged that Wagner had been a business partner with one of the principals of a San Diego–based cannabis dispensary company, Golden State Greens, that sought and received one of the three cannabis dispensary permits issued by the City of Santa Barbara two years ago. Wagner was one of five high-ranking city employees charged with evaluating the applications submitted by individuals and companies competing for the coveted permits.
The article, written by freelance reporter, former screenwriter, and until recently Santa Barbara resident Mitchell Kriegman, alleged that cannabis entrepreneur Micah Anderson had been a principal with Golden State Greens when it successfully sought the city’s permit. Anderson had been business partners with Wagner when the two lived in San Diego and operated a consulting firm together specializing in cannabis permitting. Wagner moved to Santa Barbara in 2017 at the instigation of former Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow, who hired him to be her right-hand man on issues relating to cannabis and alcohol regulations as well as her spokesperson and general advisor.
The article, it turned out, was factually incorrect and the conflict-of-interest it alleged did not exist. Anderson, records show, was not involved with Golden State Greens and its efforts to secure a dispensary in Santa Barbara. Los Angeles magazine has since issued a retraction, which reads: “A prior version of this story incorrectly identified Micah Anderson as one of the owners that applied for a cannabis dispensary license for Golden State Greens in Santa Barbara. The information we have been provided since the article was published shows that Mr. Anderson was neither an owner of Golden State Greens nor involved in the application process in Santa Barbara. We apologize for any confusion.”
Melekian explained that he is still proceeding with the investigation out of an abundance of caution sparked by the article. “We’re doing our due diligence here,” he said, explaining that Sintra Professional Investigations would explore any relationships that might exist between Wagner and any of the principals of Golden State Greens. Wagner has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Sintra was started in 2002 by Steve Bowman, a retired assistant chief with the Ventura Police Department. Melekian said that the background check will cost no more than $7,500 and the results should be final within a few weeks.
The allegations in Kriegman’s article qualified as a major news bombshell when the story initially broke. Wagner has issued a detailed demand for a retraction, far more sweeping than the one already issued. Santa Barbara City Administrator Paul Casey, City Attorney Ariel Calonne, and Interim Police Chief Melekian have released a detailed list of other errors they claimed the article contained.
Although Golden State Greens managed to secure one of the three permits issued by the City of Santa Barbara for a location by State Street and Ontare Road — and obtained all the necessary building permits — it never opened the proposed dispensary. Instead it sold a portion of its shares ― for an undisclosed amount said to be worth many millions ― to a cannabis company named Jushi from Boca Raton, Florida, which opened its doors several months ago and is currently operating.
March 14, 2021: Investigative Journalist Hints at Santa Barbara City Corruption
March 15, 2021: Deciphering the Bombshell LA Magazine Piece that Just Hit City Hall
March 15, 2021: Santa Barbara City Employee Placed on Administrative Leave Following Article
March 17, 2021: Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article
March 18, 2021: Santa Barbara Officials Respond to Claims in LA Magazine Article
March 22, 2021: Santa Barbara Police Department Hires Firm to Investigate Employee