City Council Members From 2009 Say They Were Never Offered Bribes

Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner goes over elections results with Marissa Coughlin at City Hall in 2008

None of the four other city council members who served on Malibu City Council in 2009—during the time former Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner alleges a bribe attempt took place—said they could recall experiencing any attempts to buy their votes throughout their terms on the city’s governing board.

Speaking to The Malibu Times in separate phone interviews between Dec. 17-21, former council members Pamela Conley Ulich, Sharon Barovsky, John Sibert and Andy Stern each reported that they were unaware of any bribes or bribery attempts made during their time on city council. Barovsky and Sibert also made clear that they felt Wagner was affable and easy to get along with while he was their colleague and exhibited no behavior that might have signaled he was under pressure. 

Planning Commission Chair John Mazza, who at the time was Planning Commission Vice Chair, said he remembered Wagner telling him about the bribe attempt just after it happened. 

It’s now been over a week since Wagner shared an affidavit—presented by current City Council Member Bruce Silverstein—detailing alleged instances of attempted bribery, corruption and misbehavior within the ranks of city staff and on city council that he witnessed, heard about or even experienced himself during his non-consecutive eight-year term as a city council member. 

One specific allegation in the affidavit was that “[d]uring the remodeling and renovation of the current Malibu City Hall, [Wagner] was offered … valuable personal ‘incentives’ to approve a specified vendor/contractor who was bidding to perform various services in connection with the construction project.” 

Though Wagner wrote that he did not remember the name of the vendor who allegedly attempted to bribe him, his affidavit said he hoped the information would be in records kept by former City Attorney Christi Hogin because, according to Wagner, he notified her of the attempt when it happened. When The Malibu Times reached Hogin on Dec. 15, she said she did not remember such an event. 

Wagner also wrote in the affidavit that he did not know whether other city council members or Malibu city employes “received and/or accepted similar offers,” but that he “would be surprised if [he] were the only person who received such an offer because it requires at least three favorable votes for contracts” such as that one. 

Interim City Attorney John Cotti told The Malibu Times via email on Tuesday, Dec. 22, that he had referred Wagner’s affidavit to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, which is in charge of investigating and prosecuting criminal activity and corruption involving elected and appointed officials and public employees. He also shared Head Deputy District Attorney Alan Yochelson’s response to the affidavit, which confirmed that the district attorney’s office had received the affidavit and was reviewing it. As of Friday, Dec. 18, Yochelson wrote, the office had not yet commenced an investigation, but if it was to do so, they would not be able to share information about it “due to ethical considerations.”Cotti did not immediately provide an estimate as to how long the investigation might take.

“Let me be very clear,” Stern said. “No one ever offered me a bribe when I was on city council or planning commission—never happened.”

“Eight years on city council, five-and-a-half on planning commission, at no time did anybody attempt to bribe me with anything—never,” Sibert emphasized. “Christi Hogin was our city attorney; she pounded it into our heads what we could and couldn’t do as council members. When I met with people, I never let them pay for my lunch or even a cup of coffee,” describing a city council culture with clear rules about not accepting gifts. 

Sibert said that Wagner never mentioned the alleged bribe attempt Wagner was offered during the years they served together. Sibert said he and Wagner “got to be friends;” the pair spent many hours “driving around the state together” to California Coastal Commission meetings, as part of their role as council members. During those trips, Sibert said, Wagner “never mentioned anything to [him]” about an attempted bribe. “Never a word about anything like that.”

“I have no idea where this is coming from,” Sibert said. 

Conley Ulich echoed his words, saying she was not aware of any bribes: “Jefferson never spoke to me about any bribes; I have no idea why Jefferson might be saying this.”

Barovsky agreed. 

“[Wagner] … seemed perfectly fine when we worked together,” Barovsky said. She also said that she’d read the affidavit “over and over” and had “no idea” what Wagner was talking about. 

Multiple of the former council members also said that such a bribe would not have been effective because the city is legally obligated to give the contract to the lowest responsible bidder. Contracts are usually awarded in public at meetings. 

Stern said he did not know why Wagner was bringing the allegations forth in 2020 instead of back in 2009. When it came to Wagner’s claim that Hogin did nothing when Wagner brought the alleged bribery attempt to her attention, Stern said, “I wouldn’t believe that for a second. Christi [Hogin]’s the definition of honesty, integrity and diligence.”

When The Malibu Times reached Wagner on Dec. 15, Wagner said he was bringing the general allegations of corruption to the forefront now because for a while he had assumed someone else would do so. Wagner described himself as “weak” and said he needed a stronger candidate with more legal knowledge such as Silverstein to bring them to light. 

Though it seems Wagner did not mention any bribe attempts to any other members of the city council, he did tell Planning Commissioner John Mazza about one. Mazza told  The Malibu Times over the phone that Wagner and he “talk all the time” and “have for 30 years.”

When Wagner mentioned a bribe attempt to Mazza in Wagner’s surf shop back in 2009, according to Mazza, he only shared a few details. 

“I never knew who the bribe was, but [Wagner] told me he turned it in to Christi [Hogin] and it had something to do with stucco … He said he wasn’t a crook, he wasn’t going to do it and he turned it in to Christi [Hogin],” Mazza said. 

The affidavit included details about the bribe attempt Wagner allegedly received, which included offers for vacations as well as restuccoing of Wagner’s home.

The most lavish of these offerings was an all-expense-paid weekend in Las Vegas with Wagner’s choice of a “Flower Basket” or “Fruit Basket” upon arrival, which Wagner understood to be euphemisms for baskets of chips he could cash in at different casinos in amounts under $10,000, which would not have to be reported to the IRS.  

“Today, it is my understanding that the Las Vegas offer is the same type of offer that was identified by the United States Attorney for the Central District of California in connection with the indictments of Los Angeles City Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander, as well as certain city staff members,” Wagner’s affidavit detailed. 

Englander recently pleaded guilty in an extensive corruption case and will be sentenced on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, according to the LA Times, while Huizar pleaded not guilty and is currently set for trial on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, according to LAist.