Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article title=
Mitchell Kriegman | Credit: Paul Wellman / The Independent
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.


By Nick Welsh

ALL BARK, NO BITE: Some stories are so bad they’re good. Some stories are too good to be true. The 4,000-word rip-the-lid-off exposé written by screenwriter-turned-reporter Mitchell Kriegman in the most recent Los Angeles magazine about the corruptions wrought by cannabis in Santa Barbara, it turns out, are both. The article is, undeniably, a great read. Unfortunately, it’s also false at its very core.

The article — “In Sleepy Santa Barbara, a City Hall Insider Is Raising Eyebrows” — is an indefensibly one-sided warts-and-all romp through the landscape of Santa Barbara city politics in which dirt gets deliciously 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 / The Independent

But the most dirt is dumped on Luhnow’s right-hand man, Anthony Wagner, whom Kriegman depicts as a bully, a buffoon, and a crook — a public servant who rigged the deck on behalf of his former business partner in securing one of the city’s three lucrative cannabis dispensary permits. The partner then flipped it, making untold millions in profit. 

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

Good question. The short answer: It didn’t.

Had Mitchell Kriegman only picked up the phone, he could have found that out. He didn’t.

Instead, in answer to my query, he said he emailed ”all the parties relevant to the article … well before publication, several more than once…. Questions were also submitted directly and a request for interviews and comments were also made. Not one responded,” he said.

Kriegman did get one thing absolutely right; Wagner is a great story. He’s a big gulp of man who packs a lot of carbonation. He talks big; he wears big shoes and loud socks. But Wagner steps on 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 weird. Even weirder, Luhnow cannibalized the position of deputy chief to pay Wagner’s salary. Not surprisingly, a lot of cops never took a shine to Wagner. 

Wagner’s job experience was as a San Diego planning commissioner and as a land-use consultant specializing in converting farmland into integrated cannabis operations. His partner in that consulting firm was a guy named Micah Anderson, who, in Kriegman’s narrative, plays the role of “smoking gun.” 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 the City’s Fire, Planning, Administration, Attorney, and Police departments. Wagner was the public spokesperson for the group. He, after all, knew the industry. Together, these five each ranked the applicants based on their respective fields of expertise. Wagner, for example, ranked the applicants’ security plans. 

Kriegman focused on the permit secured by Golden State Greens, a highly successful dispensary out of San Diego owned by a guy named Adam Knopf. Wagner knew Knopf from his San Diego Planning Commission days when he voted to approve a Knopf cannabis project.

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

Lost in the flurry of Kriegman’s many insinuations is a genuine bombshell accusation. Kriegman alleges that Wagner’s former business partner Micah Anderson was a partner with Knopf in his Santa Barbara dispensary project. If true, that would mean Wagner helped evaluate the project of a former business partner. That, in any book, constitutes a major conflict of interest. Failure by Wagner to disclose such a fox-guarding-the-henhouse relationship would be grounds for immediate termination and perhaps legal action.

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

I covered the dispensary selection process and have no recollection of Micah Anderson. His name appears on none of the documents. Had Kriegman talked to Wagner, Wagner would have told him — as he told me — Anderson had absolutely nothing to do with the deal. 

Had he 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 that he has no business relationships with Adam Knopf or Golden State Greens anywhere else. Anderson stated he and Knopf did try to get a dispensary approved in Pasadena a year after Knopf had won the Santa Barbara dispensary, but the Pasadena 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, by email, or by text. “That’s kind of unusual,” he said. “Don’t you think?”

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

The reason I believe Wagner is that Wagner is one of the most hyper-accessible people in city government. Kriegman also wrote that he sought comment from City Attorney Calonne but without success. Calonne said Kriegman sent him an email requesting comment for an article Kriegman said he’d already written. Calonne said he didn’t see the 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 reporter’s job.

RELATED ARTICLES

 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

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Voice of Reason Mar 17, 2021 02:37 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Unaddressed is how Golden State Greens was able to transfer/sell the permit without city council approval, which per the prior article was required. Also, what's the point of the very thorough vetting process if the permit can just be flipped to anyone else after?

a-1616019248 Mar 17, 2021 03:14 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Nick failed to mention the allegations of Wagner flashing a badge and bullying people, insinuating that he's a cop.

Also, Kriegman stated that everything he reported he as evidence. Maybe he didn't get quotes from those accused, but if what he stated is true with supporting evidence then Wagner still needs to go.

BrightSideOfTheRoad Mar 17, 2021 08:38 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

It is actually a big deal, because of the impact that it had on the local business owner (long time resident) involved. Wagner is obviously a jerk, who thinks the rules don’t apply to him , inflating his ego by flashing a badge (doesn’t even matter what kind of badge it was)

BrightSideOfTheRoad Mar 17, 2021 08:38 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

It is actually a big deal, because of the impact that it had on the local business owner (long time resident) involved. Wagner is obviously a jerk, who thinks the rules don’t apply to him , inflating his ego by flashing a badge (doesn’t even matter what kind of badge it was)

Bene Mar 17, 2021 06:27 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

I don't see Nick's piece as politically motivated. I think he is motivated by journalistic integrity. I don't like any of the people this piece "hits," and my politics are probably different from Nick's. But when I read Kriegman's story, I noticed the same problems Nick did. I'm only making comments because it bothers me that Kriegman is lowering the standards of the profession. Wouldn't you be equally concerned if people purporting to be experts in your profession did work that impinged on the good name of your profession?

Randy Parks Mar 17, 2021 11:32 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

I certainly don't believe Nicks story - as was said - follow the money. Typical, protect your "friends", especially in high places.. what Nick should be pushing is that there should be a through investigation, and let's see where the webs attached...

Bene Mar 17, 2021 06:16 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

"Don't send a screenwriter to do a reporter's job." Well said! And the opposite is true as well. My colleagues and I spent years in school and interned to become professional reporters in television and print. Some of us, myself included, tried to also write novels and other "creative" writing. Although some of the skills cross over, the "rules" for creative writing are quite different than for reporting. Reporters need to learn some different skills to write novels, and novelists/screen writers , I think, have even more new things to learn in order to be professional reporters. Kriegman illustrates this point quite well. My first Journalism instructor, the legendary Ray Canton, would have put a failing grade on this one.

BrightSideOfTheRoad Mar 17, 2021 08:31 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Let me get this straight, Mr. Kriegmann is wrong because the accused people say so. Well then, case closed. Ha! Looks like Nick is a little jealous that someone else is getting attention for a well written piece of actual reporting.

Bene Mar 19, 2021 04:20 AM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

I do not admire the way Kriegman reported this story. I think criticizing his "journalism" is valid, even if some of his allegations are true. Nick hit on some very valid criticisms. Whatever I might think of Nick's reporting in general doesn't have anything to do with the aforementioned facts.

ChemicalSuperFreak Mar 17, 2021 09:46 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Welsh says that Kriegman, a screenwriter, shouldn't play journalist. Then Mr. Welsh, a journalist, shouldn't play "an outside firm [hired] to conduct that investigation for the Police Department"---which were interim Chief Melekian's words on Monday.

According to Welsh, he asked several parties if they did something bad, and they said "NO". Most criminals deny accusations when asked, and you'd think a "journalist" would know that by now, but I guess Welsh is satisfied by the denial so case closed.

Many of us wondered why LA Magazine covered this story and, like the LA Times cannabis articles, it's probably because it's not the sort of thing that would be covered objectively by our local press.

dukemunson Mar 17, 2021 09:58 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

CSF - I take issue with your statement that it would not “be covered objectively by our local press.” WE ESSENTIALLY DONT HAVE A LOCAL PRESS!! The independent is basically an opinion rag. Sure it has useful info about news and happenings in SB, but literally everything is presented through a very specific biased filter. It’s useful and in its own way “essential”... but Welsh is even less of a journalist than Kriegman.

doulie Mar 17, 2021 10:13 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

In an issue such as this I believe Kriegman was correct in wanting (written) rather than verbal responses to his questions. I’m sure all would agree it’s harder to deny a written response than a verbal comment. I expect Kriegman will have all the emails to substantiate his claims. What process was used by city hall to solicit bids for the licenses? Seems reasonable to me to focus on Knopf and Wagner, especially if it was known Wagner previously voted to approve a cannabis project submitted by Knopf. This alone seems it would be reasonable to question the issuance of the permit to Knopf, the second successful dispensary permit involving Wagner in two separate cities/counties. Whether or not Anderson was involved simply adds wood to the fire. Isn’t it enough that Wagner previously approved a cannabis project in Knopf’s favor to constitute a conflict of interest? Did others on the staff responsible for cannabis licensing in Santa Barbara know Wagner previously was involved in a license being issued to Wagner? Are we to believe Wagner and Anderson simply because Welsh spoke to them? I didn’t read where Welsh spoke to Knopf. Did I miss something? Why was Anderson and Knopf’s attempt to get a dispensary in Pasadena fail, when Knopf prevailed in Santa Barbara? City Attorney Calonne reportedly was advised by Kriegman the “article” was written (and it appears not yet published) when Kriegman was requesting a comment from him. Seems like this would have been a good time to review the document, investigate and suggest corrections (before it was published). Welsh states Calonne allowed him to view the email requesting comment for the article. I don’t understand why Kriegman would send an email to one principal (an attorney) that admits it was received but not others involved. I’d have a tendency to believe Kriegman than the others denying they were contacted for a comment.

Randy Parks Mar 17, 2021 10:33 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

I certainly don't believe Nicks story - as was said - follow the money. Typical, protect your "friends", especially in high places.. what Nick should be pushing is that there should be a through investigation, and let's see where the webs attached...

PitMix Mar 18, 2021 09:42 AM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

I know someone that heads a non-profit and she undergoes a complete audit every year, and sometimes more than once. They like to audit her because her books are really good and they can report back that everything is great. As for these City and County departments, how often do they get audited and what are the results? Have you ever heard of any?

JB86 Mar 17, 2021 11:40 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Whatever the facts of this case may be, it puzzles me why a small city like Santa Barbara needs a dedicated position like Anthony Wagner holds. According to Transparent California, a web site that tracks public employee compensation, Wagner makes $133, 681 in base salary, with total compensation of $206,938. His job is 'Police Public Engagement Manager.' Seems like a good thing to do, but should not this be a second duty for the Chief or one of the ranking staff - a sworn police officer? Just seems extravagant to me.

PitMix Mar 18, 2021 07:57 AM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Nick confirms it is paid leave.
Amazing that this journalistic scoop consists of calling Anderson and printing his words as if they were gospel. I guess the days of actual digging into business entity records, especially since they did have a relationship later on in Pasadena, are over. Without an actual investigative newspaper, the corrupt mice can play when the cat is away.

Stray Mar 18, 2021 08:20 AM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

As quoted in his article, Anthony Wagner told Mitchell Kriegman: “You know, from now on, I’m going to be married to you,” ...........“We’re going to be joined at the hip"....... “We’re gonna be best friends…[City council] are not going to talk to you. But I’ll get you everything you need.”

Just wonderin'........have our local reporters been Anthony Wagner's "best friend"? Reluctant to dig out unpleasant truths?

a-1616110743 Mar 18, 2021 04:39 PM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Well Nick Welsh certainly has. That's probably why he never writes stories that seriously probe electeds, officials, etc. He needs his inside sources. Even when they're corrupt. That's why he threw this hissy fit over what Kriegman wrote.

a-1616084411 Mar 18, 2021 09:20 AM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

These old fools have been running the narrative and controlling the narrative in this town for way too long. Nick Welsch and his group of cronies have been controlling the narrative in this town for too long. It's really gross that they pat each other on the back and cover for each other. Thank god we have a fresh perspective from out of Santa Barbara to shine a light on the self dealing and corruption that goes on in local government. Maybe this LA reporter should do a story on them.

AwareHuman Mar 19, 2021 09:04 AM
Lots of Innuendo but Little Substance in Los Angeles Magazine Article

Ostensibly an outsider outed the corruption at the heart of not-parsdise-Santa Barbara. Every transplant I've met has mentioned their shock at how shabby city hall feels . There's an uneasy sense that too many get away with too much. So, time to count your blessings that this article was written. The Housing , SBHA, is also in need of an audit & investigation. I am alarmed by so many people talking about how bad it is...and, I am a newcomer, so if I hear so many complaints then there must be "stuff" going on. Time to find out. Clean house SB!

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