LA Magazine Retracts Article on Alleged Corruption of Anthony Wagner
By Lauren Bray, edhat staff
Los Angeles Magazine (LA Mag) has issued a retraction of its previous article alleging corruption of a Santa Barbara public official while issuing cannabis permits.
Last March the Santa Barbara community was abuzz after LA Mag published an article titled "In Sleepy Santa Barbara, a City Hall Insider Raises Eyebrows" written by Mitchell Kriegman, targeting Public Information Officer (PIO) Anthony Wagner's alleged shady dealings.
Kriegman stated that Wagner has been accused of flashing a badge and pretending to be a sworn officer while bullying an Eastside business owner and received complaints to the City. Despite these, he obtained high-ranking positions such as PIO to then-Mayor Cathy Murrillo and the point person who awarded cannabis dispensary licenses for the city.
The article further suggested that friends or acquaintances of Wagner had received highly coveted cannabis dispensary licenses within the City of Santa Barbara before promptly flipping the license and selling it for a profit to a Florida-based company.
Local journalists raised their eyebrows indeed, but not because of the article's claims. Instead, there were concerns about the quality of reporting and sources. Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers reported the Montecito Journal was in talks to first publish the story but backed out over some concerns. Nick Welsh of The Independent stated it was all bark and no bite with lots of innuendoes and little substance.
Jerry Roberts went on to interview Kriegman about his article and Kriegman himself wrote an Op-Ed for edhat defending his piece and clarifying that he withdrew the exposé from the Montecito Journal, it was not rejected.
Ultimately, the Santa Barbara Police Department hired a third-party investigator to review the claims made in the LA Mag piece while Wagner was placed on administrative leave. Two months later the Police Department released the results of the investigation and stated Wagner did not have a conflict of interest with awarding a license to a specific cannabis company.
Following the investigation, the LA Mag issued one correction to this point but did not address any of the other reported inaccuracies. Even though Wagner was cleared of misconduct, his position was eliminated in the department’s budget. In June of 2021, Tyler Hayden of The Independent reported that Wagner demanded LA Mag retract their article and pay $4.6 million in damages and attorneys’ fees. At that time, LA Mag stated it was standing by its story.
Now, eight months later it appears the publication is reversing course. At 5:30 p.m. on Friday, February 25th, edhat received an email from a general account at LA Mag informing us the links we used in our previous articles to their three stories on Wagner will now be defunct. Clicking on the links now provide an "Oops... Error 404" without any content.
The email provided no notice of a correction that we should add to our stories or an explanation for the link removal, it simply stated these articles have been removed and the links will no longer work.
Leave it to Santa Barbara's veteran journalist Jerry Roberts to say what we're all thinking in his latest piece. "It seems likely that the deletion of the offending articles is part of a broader legal settlement between the magazine and Wagner, the terms of which apparently are confidential, given that nobody's talking about what's behind the sudden and surprise move," he wrote.
According to Roberts, no one could be reached for comment.
Below is a list of all the articles edhat has published on this topic and each of them will now include a disclaimer regarding the link removal and a notice to read this article for more information.
March 14, 2021: Investigative Journalist Hints at Santa Barbara City Corruption
March 18, 2021: Santa Barbara Officials Respond to Claims in LA Magazine Article
March 22, 2021: OP-ED: Alleged Corruption by Wagner Doesn't Pass the "Duck Test"
March 25, 2021: OP-ED - Journalist Corrects the Record on LA Magazine Article