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Laguna Mayor Is Indicted on Conflict Charge

The felony allegation stems from a city real estate deal in which he represented the sellers.

November 01, 2002|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

Laguna Beach Mayor Wayne Baglin has been indicted on a felony conflict-of-interest charge for allegedly working as a real estate broker on behalf of the sellers of two properties the city bought last year.

Baglin was informed of the indictment Thursday, a day after several top city officials testified before a grand jury convened by the Orange County district attorney's office.

Prosecutors would not comment on the case.

Baglin's attorney, meanwhile, said the charge is baseless.

"Mr. Baglin did nothing wrong whatsoever," said attorney Michael Molfetta of Newport Beach. "We're not going to admit any wrongdoing. So the case is either going to be dismissed or go to trial. Either way, I like my chances."

Molfetta said his client will plead innocent at a Nov. 15 arraignment and will be cleared of the charges.

The case dates to January 2001, when the City Council, in search of land for a senior center, voted to buy a pair of adjacent parcels on 3rd Street through eminent domain.

The property was owned by Edgar and Dorothy Hatfield, clients and friends of Baglin.

Though Baglin recused himself from the city's vote on the land and disclosed his relationship with the sellers, he represented the couple during negotiations with the city. He received a $54,000 commission. At the time, Baglin was a councilman.

Some activists in Laguna Beach have argued that Baglin should not have relinquished his role as a councilman in favor of his clients. The higher the price he was able to negotiate in the deal, they said, the higher the cost for taxpayers, and the higher his commission.

Under the state's government code, elected officials are prohibited from having a financial interest in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any entity of which they are members.

The charge is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment. Those found guilty can also be banned permanently from holding office in California.

Molfetta said the indictment was disappointing but not surprising given how frequently grand juries return indictments sought by prosecutors.

"Orange County Grand Jury would indict me for being a Chippendale dancer, and clearly I am not," he said.

He maintained that Baglin was always upfront about his role as a real estate agent, and argued that either the laws are being twisted or the allegations are politically motivated.

Asked to elaborate, he said that there "was a lot of acrimony" among council members.

Baglin, a Republican, was first elected to the council in 1978 and lost his seat in 1998.

He was reelected in 2000 and is in the middle of a four-year term.

The felony conflict-of-interest case is the first against an Orange County politician since Dave Garofalo, former Huntington Beach mayor and city councilman, was prosecuted for repeatedly voting on city matters involving companies that bought advertising from his publishing business.

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