‘Wagner Affidavit’ Investigation Comes Up Empty-Handed

Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner 

There is not enough credible evidence to prove corruption at Malibu City Hall—in fact, “the allegations … are not substantiated, and/or are conclusively refuted, by available evidence,” according to attorneys hired by the city to investigate claims.

That was the decision reached by attorneys Evan A. Jenness and George B. Newhouse Jr., the lawyers city council hired in April to investigate allegations of attempted bribery and corruption at City Hall.

The report—six months in the making—was provided to council on Oct. 26, 2021, and released to the public on Monday evening, Dec. 6. It came about after former longtime Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner presented a seven-page affidavit alleging corruption at City Hall on his last day in office—Dec. 14, 2020.

In the affidavit, which it was later revealed was written with the help of incoming Council Member Bruce Silverstein, Wagner said he was the victim of retribution from then-City Manager Reva Feldman after he declined to vote in favor of her contract and salary increase (which was approved in a 4-1 vote). He also said he had been offered bribes by a City Hall subcontractor and was pressured into approving a project by developers with ties to Feldman (although that project was not up for council approval).

Wagner was not available for comment on Tuesday, Dec. 7, by the time The Malibu Times went to print.

Silverstein’s 2020 election campaign included outspoken statements disparaging then-City Manager Reva Feldman’s leadership as well as pledges to attempt to see her removed from her role. Just weeks into Silverstein’s first term in office, Feldman began to complain of harassment. She retained a lawyer and shortly thereafter departed the city in February, having broken her contract and received a total of $300,000 in compensation. Feldman also signed a nondisparagement clause.

Feldman could not be reached for comment by The Times’ deadline on Tuesday.

According to the 40-page investigation report released Monday, inconsistent witness statements, a lack of evidence, uncooperative witnesses, and the dubious credibility of Wagner himself led to the conclusion that there was no verifiable wrongdoing at City Hall.

“Wagner’s motives and credibility also are in serious doubt,” attorneys wrote. “His overall veracity is questionable, given his failure to timely report his awareness of wrongdoing while he was serving as a city council member. His failure to contemporaneously document a matter as serious as attempted bribery, and his substantial inability to back up his allegations when questioned by counsel, further calls his credibility into question. In light of the preceding, we conclude that the allegations of corruption in the affidavit may safely be rejected by the city council, as they evidently have been by law enforcement.”

At the outset of the investigation, two council members were elected to act as “client representatives” for council—Karen Farrer and Bruce Silverstein. Farrer described that the two, along with interim City Attorney John Cotti, interviewed potential lawyers before agreeing on Jenness and Newhouse. They also received updates on the status of the investigation as it proceeded.

Silverstein declined to be interviewed at this time; however, he provided a “Letter to the Editor” in response. That letter appears in full as a guest column on page A2. Farrer spoke to TMTin a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 7.

Both praised the investigation.

“Having participated in the process by which the investigating lawyers were engaged, having served on the subcommittee of the city council that interacted with the investigating lawyers, and having been interviewed by the investigating lawyers as a potential witness, I believe the investigation was both ‘proper’ and ‘led by experienced and independent individuals,’” Silverstein wrote in part of his letter. “Accordingly, I am pleased that the investigation provided the city with a clean bill of health—as I said would be the case when I first advocated for the investigation to occur.”

Farer said she felt the report was thorough.

“I think interviewing 28 people and contacting some others who declined to be interviewed or who just never responded—I think that is thorough,” Farrer said, adding that due to the thoroughness, the cost for the investigation, initially projected at $50,000, had more than doubled to an estimated $112,000.

“In my opinion, you can’t read this report without having at the forefront of your mind that Bruce [Silverstein] ran on a platform of something akin to draining the swamp. I don’t know if he used those exact words, but now that all of these allegations have been found to be false, it sounds like his entire campaign platform was based on a fraud,” Farrer said. “What was the swamp to be drained of if all of this was not true?”

Malibu Planning Commissioner John Mazza—who was one of the 28 witnesses named in the report, as Wagner had cited him as having knowledge of the alleged bribery attempt—called the report a “whitewashing” during a brief phone call with The Times on Tuesday.

“I just now read the summary of the investigation and find it is as much a coverup as the city’s investigation of itself after the Woolsey Fire,” Mazza said. “After reading the summary, I still believe that if you turned the lights on late and night at City Hall, cockroaches would scurry across the floor and run into their holes.”

In speaking to TMT, Mazza elaborated on his complaints.

“Nowhere in there do they prove something didn’t happen—they just couldn’t prove it did happen,” Mazza said. “That’s not a reason to call someone a liar or say it definitely didn’t happen. That’s shoddy investigation.”

In his submitted letter, Silverstein expressed a desire for residents to access the “interview notes” from the investigation, which Ferrer confirmed were soon to be released to the public.

“Just as a jury verdict concludes a trial, I believe that the determination of the experienced and independent investigating lawyers should conclude this matter, and I am hopeful that the residents of Malibu will reach the same conclusion after reviewing the report and interview notes,” Silverstein wrote.

When asked what the end result of the investigation’s findings may be, Farrer said it was “up to the people of Malibu,” but later added that changes—including a high turnover rate in city staff (citing the departure of the city attorney, city manager and city clerk all in the past year)—had already occurred. Former City Attorney Christi Hogin, who retired in December 2020, did not immediately respond to an interview request.

“Unfortunately, changes have been made, but in my opinion, they’re changes for the worst,” Farrer said.

Later in the interview, Farrer called the investigation a “low point for the city” and added that in her opinion, “a lot of damage has been done, money wasted, time wasted … I hope the people of Malibu see this for what it is.”

The report also shed light on a lingering question—why the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office raided Wagner’s home in 2018. In the affidavit, Wagner tied the raid to his decision to vote against a contract extension and salary increase for Feldman, but according to the investigation, the District Attorney was looking into whether Wagner, a council member, resided within the city limits of Malibu.

“More than one witness has informed us that it was common knowledge that Wagner lived outside of Malibu city limits when he filed his nomination papers in early 2016, and Wagner even confirmed living in that home until November 2018,” according to the investigation report. However, no charges were ever filed in that case.