AZUSA — A businessman has said that while he was seeking city permission to build a $160-million waste-to-energy plant here Councilman Armando L. Camarena asked him for $150,000 to buy a liquor store.
John Macardican told the City Council on Monday night that after he refused to give Camarena the money, the councilman asked him to co-sign a loan. Macardican said he also rejected that request as well as an earlier suggestion from Camarena that he hire the mayor's personal attorney to help him obtain necessary permits. Although he said Camarena did not promise to secure approval of Macardican's project, the developer told the council he believed permission to build the plant hinged on his helping Camarena financially.
Camarena, 39, who until recently worked for a computer records storage company, rejected Macardican's charges saying, "The comments made by Mr. Macardican are absurd, ridiculous and totally without merit. His comments reflect a desperate man grasping at straws." Macardican had withdrawn his project after the council voted 3 to 2 to deny it.
Like other councilmen, Camarena had known that the allegations might be aired at the meeting because they have been circulating in the community for more than a week. He had earlier said that he would have a statement ready in case the matter did arise at the meeting.
Camarena did not give a detailed response to the charges at the meeting, but during an interview said that it was Macardican who initiated the discussion about obtaining financing for a liquor store. He said Macardican told him he might be able to recommend someone who could make a loan, but he never followed through. Camarena said he had arranged for half the financing elsewhere, but did not go ahead with the purchase.
Camarena said he had recommended that Macardican retain Richard Hernandez, the mayor's personal attorney, when Macardican asked him if he knew anyone who might help him with the waste-to-energy project. The councilman did not specify what type of help Macardican told him he wanted, but he did say he never implied that hiring Hernandez would guarantee approval of the project.
Macardican's allegations have been referred to the district attorney's office by Lloyd Wood, the city administrator and police chief. Wood said that he referred the charges to the district attorney Jan. 14 even though he believes no law has been broken. Deputy Dist. Atty. Candace Beason said she will review the allegations to determine if a full investigation is warranted.
The confrontation at Monday's council meeting was the latest development in a year of controversy over the waste-to-energy plant that Macardican wants to build.
Macardican, 47, heads a South El Monte recycling company established by his father in the 1940s. He said the company, which employs 120 workers, grosses $12 million a year. Macardican said in an interview that he mortgaged his house in Arcadia to raise some of the $550,000 he has spent for plans, environmental studies and other work connected with the waste-to-energy project, which he unveiled to the council 13 months ago.
On Jan. 6, Macardican suffered a major setback when the council voted 3 to 2 to deny a conditional-use permit needed before construction can begin. Camarena was one of the two councilmen who supported the project.
Allowed to Withdraw
At Monday's meeting, the council allowed Macardican to withdraw his application for a use permit instead of formally rejecting it. They did not, however, go along with his request that an advisory measure be removed from the April 8 city ballot that will ask voters if they think a plant should be built in Azusa. City Atty. Peter Thorson said it was too late to remove the measure.
In his statement, Macardican said that he was approached by Camarena about the money a few months after they traveled to Columbus, Ohio, last summer to tour a waste-to-energy plant. "I was asked by Mr. Camarena for $150,000 so he could purchase a local liquor store," Macardican told the council. "I told him that the project had taken all my money and I could not help him. He then asked if I would take him to my bank and co-sign a loan."
Macardican said he "realized that at that moment I had a big problem. If I didn't give him the money, I'd lose my $550,000 investment."
Macardican said he met with Camarena again in December. "I stated to Mr. Camarena that I felt his request for money and me not responding had jeopardized my project . . . . Because of these circumstances I wanted him to abstain from voting. If he didn't I would make a statement to council and give a copy to the press."
Changed His Mind