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Firms Did Work on Home of O.C. Water Official


SAN DIEGO — Two major contractors for the Santa Margarita Water District performed thousands of dollars' worth of landscaping and home improvement work for the district's assistant general manager, who is under investigation for possible conflict-of-interest law violations.

An attorney for Michael P. Lord, the assistant manager, said Thursday that the contractors had been paid for all but $100 of the $3,350 that Lord has been billed for the improvements so far. He said that Lord paid full value for what was done. But the lawyer said he did not know the total value of the construction.

Documents reviewed by The Times show that the companies have been heavily involved for almost three years in home improvements worth at least $22,214. One firm obtained building and grading permits and drew up plans for the installation of twin fireplaces, French doors and a lattice fence at Lord's San Diego County home in Vista.

Most of the detailed architectural planning was done by Robert Bein, William Frost & Associates, an Irvine civil engineering firm that has given Lord and the district's general manager, W.W. (Bill) Knitz, nearly $14,000 in gifts since 1987, and has received more than $13 million in consulting contracts over the past four years.

After The Times disclosed the gifts in an article earlier this week, Lord and Knitz came under investigation by the Orange County district attorney's office, which is attempting to determine whether the men violated conflict-of-interest laws by recommending contracts after they had received gifts in excess of state-mandated limits.

Irvine Consulting Group, which did soils testing at the request of Robert Bein, has given Knitz $800 in meals and theater tickets over the past four years but nothing to Lord. The company has received $376,840 worth of work the past four years.

As a subcontractor to Robert Bein, William Frost & Associates, which generally identifies itself as RBF, it is unclear whether ICG company officials knew they were doing work for the Santa Margarita Water District executive. Attempts to reach ICG officials Thursday night were unsuccessful.

In a written statement to The Times on Thursday, Bein, the company's chief executive officer, said the engineering firm had done nothing improper.

"I assure you that the project was, and is still being completed on a regular businesslike basis," he wrote. "A contract was agreed upon, the work was accomplished, invoices were sent as the work was completed and payment from Mr. Lord was recorded by RBF."

Bein said the project is still underway because the county of San Diego has not given final approval for grading, and Lord is still receiving bills.

A Laguna Hills attorney who is representing Lord during the district attorney's investigation said Lord hired Robert Bein because he "trusts their work" and the company has a San Diego County office.

"It is our opinion that there is nothing improper about Mr. Lord hiring RBF as he fully paid them for their work and did not receive any discount from them," attorney Gary M. Pohlson said.

When asked if he could verify that Lord paid for the work, Pohlson provided several documents, but only two canceled checks totaling $450. He said another check for $2,500 was more difficult to produce immediately, but that it did exist. The remaining $400 payment can also eventually be demonstrated, he said.

When pressed about exactly what work was performed by RBF, Pohlson was vague except to say that the firm provided a "grading and concept plan," which included drawings for landscaping and fees for obtaining building permits.

"Mr. Lord did most of the work himself, because he was putting in a driveway and other things," Pohlson said. "He hired some workers, some day laborers to help him but (RBF) did nothing but provide the plans."

Building and grading permits on file in San Diego County reveal that RBF was involved to some unspecified degree in improvements to Lord's home that were estimated to cost at least $22,214--and possibly much more.

The biggest single project involved a "rear yard extension" to Lord's residence, which required trucking in 1,300 cubic yards of fill dirt--enough to fill from 65 to 100 dump trucks--that was placed behind an apron built to keep the fill dirt from sliding into a nearby ravine.

The plans for this landscaping and grading project were drawn by William S. Shaw, a civil engineer employed by RBF, which also arranged for a "hydrology study" to be conducted and sub-contracted with ICG for a lengthy and detailed "geotechnical investigation" that involved "a site reconnaissance by a geologist" and extensive soil sampling and laboratory tests.

An estimate prepared by M. Wilkinson, another RBF employee, said that the materials that would be required for the rear yard extension would cost $12,542. Nowhere in the file was there an estimate for the actual cost of the work, which got underway in May, 1990, and is still unfinished, according to Robert Bein.

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