LAGUNA NIGUEL — Closing out a scandal that prompted an overhaul of the Santa Margarita Water District, the district's former second-in-command pleaded guilty Thursday to criminal charges that he illegally influenced the award of contracts to companies that lavished him with gifts.
The guilty pleas by Michael P. Lord, who was assistant general manager for nearly 16 years until his retirement in 1993, end a criminal investigation that began 15 months ago.
Lord, 51, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and perform 320 hours of community service after pleading guilty to 15 counts of conflict of interest and failing to disclose gifts. Lord is in the midst of Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings and was given until the end of the year to pay his fine.
Appearing nervous and subdued in Municipal Court on Thursday, Lord said he understood that he is not to be involved with any water district in Orange County, including Santa Margarita, for the next three years.
He also agreed not to lobby on behalf of any county, state or local agency for the next four years.
Lord, whose bankruptcy filing in San Diego County claims assets of $375,646 and liabilities of $416,257, declined comment.
In the past two weeks, three other officials have agreed to pay fines for similar conflicts of interest, and for their failure to fully disclose on their annual statements of economic interest, as state law requires, the gifts they had accepted from district contractors.