Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article

Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article title=
Anthony Wagner | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.

By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

Anthony Wagner, the former Santa Barbara police spokesperson and retail cannabis regulator at the center of a tantalizing but ultimately inaccurate Los Angeles Magazine article, is demanding the publication retract the lengthy expose by screenwriter Mitchell Kriegman and pay $4.6 million in damages and attorneys’ fees. The demand came in the form of a seven-page letter sent June 11 by Wagner’s attorney, Michele B. Friend, to magazine president and publisher Shelby Russell. Should Russell fail to respond, a lawsuit is likely to be filed.

“Mr. Kriegman and LA Magazine paint a shocking cinematic picture for a reader to believe that Mr. Wagner is like a mobster with a history of corruption who was not fit to be hired but mysteriously got the job through an improper relationship with a female supervisor, that he impersonated a police officer, waiving his badge while assaulting a private citizen, and that he misused his position to gain valuable cannabis licenses for his friends,” the letter stated while outlining what it describes as the article’s “32 gross inaccuracies.” “The outrageous claims are entirely false and misleading, and they have caused significant damage to Mr. Wagner and his family.”

The central conceit of the March 12 piece was a not-so-veiled accusation that Wagner gave special treatment to a retail cannabis applicant with whom he’d previously worked in San Diego. That allegation, however, turned out to be patently false, and an investigation launched by the Santa Barbara Police Department exonerated Wagner of any wrongdoing.

The magazine issued a correction on the point but has so far not addressed any of the other reported inaccuracies, Friend said, including misrepresentations of Wagner’s professional background and the level of his involvement in Santa Barbara’s cannabis permitting process. While Wagner was cleared of misconduct, his reputation was sufficiently publicly tarnished that his position was eliminated in the department’s latest budget and he now finds himself out of work.

Friend also excoriated Kriegman for not allowing Wagner to respond to the accusations against him prior to publication, and she noted how multiple Santa Barbara news outlets had previously declined to publish the story based on its “faulty reporting” and lack of fact-checking. Kriegman, she said, had to go “100 miles outside the city of Santa Barbara to find a publisher for his Attack Piece.”

Speaking for the publication, Editor in Chief Maer Roshan pointed the Independent to comments he’d made in a May 21 article by the magazine on the conclusion of the police investigation and the local blowback the story generated. “Santa Barbara’s complex relationship with the cannabis industry is a fraught subject that triggers a vocal response every time we cover it,” he said. “Mitchell Kriegman’s story on Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Anthony Wagner was no exception.”

Kriegman’s piece ― which included a typo in the opening paragraph that described Santa Barbara as a “gentile” rather than “genteel” community ― “underwent a succession of edits and a rigorous fact-check before it was published,” Roshan insisted. He said the magazine quickly corrected the allegation that “inaccurately linked Wagner to a local cannabis owner,” but “aside from that, there were no significant factual mistakes in our piece.”

“We respect the results of the investigation and stand by our story,” he said.


 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

 March 24, 2021: Los Angeles Magazine Issues Retraction for Cannabis Corruption Article

 March 29, 2021: Op-Ed: Journalist Corrects the Record on LA Magazine Article

 May 13, 2021: Results Released in Alleged Cannabis Corruption Investigation

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Byzantium Jun 17, 2021 05:23 PM
Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article

Wagner, as the voice of the SBPD, was unwelcome in this city long before applying his deep skills to our local pot industry ordinance. He issued a city wide memo, intent on shaming anyone who objected, that we were now required to put up with proliferation of out of town, unpermitted, "egg sellers" who had recently added accessory junk items for sale, on top of the huge litter problems already caused by their confetti egg sales, both of which sprawled into the side walk, blocked views of the parade, and created side walk congestion for all pedestrians. SBPD via Wagner failed to consider these unpermitted junk sellers were materially cutting into our own local non-profits who were required to use only permitted Fiesta booths for the sale of their items which they used this annual Fiesta event to help fund local activities in our own community. Not sorry to see him go at all. He was a mismatch for Santa Barbara. Go ahead and love your Fiesta confetti eggs and the mess they leave behind, but confine their sales to only local Fiesta authorized booths, who know to abide by local rules.

a-1624031711 Jun 18, 2021 08:55 AM
Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article

Completely agree; trash journalism needs a wake up call and the only one is a lawsuit. Sure, Wagner is arrogant but this story read like a hit job and if it was false in its accusations and innuendoes, the writer and publication need to pay for the harm, not that Wagner can ever regain his reputation and be “made whole”.

SBsurferlife Jun 18, 2021 01:36 PM
Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article

I'm confused. Other than the one retraction by LA Mag about Wagner's friendship, what is exactly false? If they say they stand by their story then they must have proof of the claims published. Will be interesting if this goes to a lawsuit.

a-1624049956 Jun 18, 2021 01:59 PM
Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article

They claimed in the LA mag article that Wagner engaged in corruption. They had no proof. If it goes to court it will be a slam dunk for Wagner. I am guessing it will be settled. The puppet guy should have stuck with fairy tales.

a-1624127110 Jun 19, 2021 11:25 AM
Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article

Did the article state "Wagner is corrupt" or did it state that he's friendly or worked with people in the cannabis industry, police force, and was on the panel that decided who got a cannabis license. Seems like the article stated facts and insinuated corruption but didn't outright state it. So it'll be a defamation cause which is really hard to prove.

Byzantium Jun 18, 2021 03:34 PM
Wagner Demands $4.6 Million for Debunked ‘L.A. Magazine’ Article

Wagner very much made himself a "public figure", which requires a much higher standard of finding intentional malice in any defamation case. The writer appears to have known how to shade that line, but not cross over it. Wagner's lawsuit is basically requisite after an investigative exposure piece like that, but I suspect it also fills his own need for a public self-defense and his perceived need for career rehabilitation. Carry on and the chips shall fall where they may. He will quickly fade from local history.

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