SAN DIEGO — Seven people whom San Diego City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez claimed to have treated on different occasions to meals at public expense said Friday that they did not dine with the councilman on the dates he listed on city records.
Some of the people--U.S. Rep. Bill Lowery, his aide Dan Greenblat, and Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce President Lee Grissom--said they have not eaten with Martinez within the last year, and a Poway public official said Martinez never treated him at the Escondido restaurant listed by the councilman on his credit card expense forms.
Martinez, interviewed at his home Friday night, blamed the discrepancies on "mistakes" and said he left the expense form paper work to the clerical staff in the City Council offices.
"I certainly would not have submitted receipts to the auditor for payment . . . knowing it gets published, with the intent to be deceitful," Martinez said. "Possibly, there may have been a breakdown in the reporting process in my office, and I want to check on that."
Martinez's secretary, Natalie Crosthwaite, said Friday night that her boss writes the names of the people he has treated to lunch on the back of the Visa card receipts, then forwards the paper work to her before it is sent to the payroll clerk. If Martinez forgets to write the names, she said, she copies names from his calendar book, which shows meal appointments.
"I usually don't pay attention to those things," she said. "They just pass from his hands to my hands to payroll, where they should go."
Asked if it were possible for either Martinez or her to make a mistake about the councilman's mealtime partners, Crosthwaite said: "Sure."
Martinez said he hoped to meet with city auditors Monday to review the expense records, and he would reimburse the city for any amounts that were disallowed.
"If I've made mistakes, I'll tell you I did," the councilman said. "And whatever is meted out to me for a mistake, I'll pay the piper as well."
City Atty. John Witt said Friday night he didn't know what to make of the discrepancies, but added, "If there is a falsification and these things didn't happen the way they're presented on paper, there would be at least a suspicion that there was a theft of public funds. That's something that, if brought to our attention, we'd turn over to the D.A.'s (district attorney's) office for investigation."
California law says that embezzlement or falsification of accounts by public officers is a felony and is punishable by a maximum four years' imprisonment. A conviction disqualifies the public official from holding any public office for life.
Records in the city auditor's department show that Martinez used a city-issued credit card between July 1, 1984, and June 30, 1985, to run up bills of $6,369.62, which are paid out of money set aside to run his council office. Martinez's aide, Rudy Murillo, used a city credit card during the same period to spend $3,132.63. The total for both men came to $9,502.25.
In comparison, other council members charged far less on city credit cards during the same year. Councilman Bill Mitchell charged $928.49, William Jones $929.99, Mike Gotch $2,468.52 and Mayor Roger Hedgecock $608.30, records show. Councilwoman Gloria McColl said she does not use a city credit card.
Council members also receive direct reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses.
Records show that Martinez and Murillo used their credit cards to pay for accommodations and meals while on city trips to Toronto and Washington.
They also routinely bought lunches or dinners at exclusive San Diego restaurants for other public officials, developers and businessmen, ostensibly while they discussed city business. Many of the meals cost more than $100 and $200, and one on Oct. 18, 1984, at Avanti Restaurant in La Jolla resulted in a $316.55 bill for five people.
But several of Martinez's purported guests told The Times Friday that they were not present at some of the meals the councilman listed on his expense forms. Those meals came to a total of $353.33.
The meals in question include:
- A Sept. 6, 1984, outing with Mike Madigan, senior vice president of Pardee Construction Co., and Grissom at Dobson's Bar and Restaurant, a block from City Hall. Martinez's expense forms list the purpose of the meal as "EDC (the Economic Development Corp.) and Otay Mesa," and the meal cost taxpayers $110.40.
Madigan and Grissom, however, both said they did not eat with Martinez on that date. Madigan said he has eaten with Martinez several other times, but Grissom said he has never had lunch or dinner with the councilman, nor has he ever discussed Otay Mesa matters with him.
- A Nov. 1, 1984, repast with Lowery and Greenblat at the Brigantine Restaurant to discuss "Tijuana sewer legislation." The meal cost $130.74. Reached at his Washington home Friday evening, Lowery said that neither he nor Greenblat was at the restaurant, and the congressman added that he cannot recall having eaten with Martinez during the last year.