Guest Column: Jefferson Wagner

Burt Ross

By this time, most Malibuites have read that Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner is under investigation by the LA County District Attorney’s Office for what may possibly be alleged perjury regarding whether he actually resides within the city limits of Malibu.

First, let’s separate rumor from fact:

RUMOR—As always, when people don’t have the facts, rumors abound. One such rumor circulating around is that the district attorney’s investigation of Zuma Jay is because he voted against a contract extension with a salary increase for City Manager Reva Feldman. The implication/innuendo is that this investigation is nothing more than a political vendetta. One woman got up at a recent council meeting and claimed that the council members were called by former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and pressured to vote for Feldman’s extension. She also accused the council members of being cowards because they hadn’t stood up for Zuma Jay. 

FACT—The district attorney’s office secured a warrant from a judge to search three locations related to Jefferson Wagner, including his surf shop on Pacific Coast Highway. According to various press reports, anywhere from six to 22 armed investigators conducted the searches. Investigators arrived early in the morning at Wagner’s home at Old Chimney Drive, where he and his girlfriend had spent the night.  

Officers with weapons drawn entered the premises. They gave Jefferson time to put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and escorted him and his girlfriend, dressed in a bathrobe, outside. Jefferson was reportedly in handcuffs for roughly an hour and detained for five hours, but nobody was arrested.

A longtime criminal lawyer who happens to reside in Malibu tells me that the district attorney’s office seems to have followed standard procedure in executing the search warrant and the procedure does not vary depending on the nature of the matter being investigated.       

MY OPINION—If there is a scintilla of evidence to support the rumors of a political vendetta, the propagators of the rumor have yet to show it. The best they have been able to come up with is that the execution of the search warrant and the vote on the city manager’s extension took place the same week. That is like saying there are many blonde people in Sweden, that Sweden has a high suicide rate, and therefore, the color of your hair determines whether you kill yourself.

Ironically, the woman who called our council people cowards did not have the courtesy or the courage to stay and hear their responses. Had she remained in the council chambers, the woman would have heard the mayor and council members declare their respect for Jefferson Wagner, and Jefferson’s declaration of respect for them. 

She would have also heard each and every councilperson other than Jefferson Wagner state unequivocally that they had not gotten any phone calls from former mayor Villaraigosa pressuring them on how to vote on the city manager’s extension. 

It is also a fact that Skylar Peak’s wife donated $2,000 for Jefferson’s legal defense, but according to this woman, Skylar is also a coward for not supporting Jefferson. Apparently, we are in an age where facts simply no longer matter.

People who innocently spread rumors without knowing the facts are doing a disservice to themselves and to our community. People who start these kind of rumors are poisoning the well from which we all have to drink.

I don’t begin to see how spreading vicious, conspiratorial rumors helps Jefferson Wagner in any way. Some people seem to be using him for their own agenda and that is shameful. I don’t know Jefferson well, but he strikes me as somebody who loves our city and has served it over many years. Rather than attack our city officials, it seems to me that our energy could be more productively directed toward the LA County District Attorney’s Office. Perhaps we could  circulate a petition stating our affection for Jefferson and our appreciation for his years of service, and beseech the DA to give Jefferson every possible benefit of the doubt in this investigation.

Also, this is an ideal opportunity to ask the LA County District Attorney’s Office to reevaluate its standard procedure for executing search warrants. I realize that when law enforcement officials conduct a search, they are vulnerable, but a certain amount of discretion is in order. If this investigation is actually about alleged perjury, and if reports about the execution of the search warrant are accurate, then what happened certainly seems like overkill and not remotely appropriate.