March 2018.

Newport Beach has served its first subpoena for records in its investigation of possible petition fraud in the unsuccessful recall effort against Councilman Scott Peotter.

The subpoena, which the city confirmed Monday, orders Angelo Paparella, president of Calabasas-based petition circulation firm PCI Consultants Inc., to produce documents related to the recall signature gathering as the city conducts a probe parallel with a criminal investigation by the Orange County district attorney’s office. The Committee to Recall Scott Peotter, the primary recall proponent group, contracted with PCI to circulate its petitions.

The district attorney’s office seized the recall petitions from the county registrar of voters in January over concerns about “potential irregularities.” Recall organizers have said they believe an outside petition circulator may have forged signatures, though the DA’s search warrant is sealed, so specific allegations are unavailable.

According to the subpoena, Paparella has until April 4 to hand over all communications that mention compliance with state election law on use of signatures and actual or alleged fraud by a signature gatherer. He also must hand over invoices for signature-gathering efforts, contact information for all signature gatherers, and forms signed by gatherers attesting that signatures would not be used for any purpose other than qualification of the recall measure for a ballot.

A split City Council agreed last month to have the city, a non-prosecutorial agency, issue subpoenas in its investigation. Newport’s charter allows the council to subpoena witnesses and question them under oath “in any investigation or proceeding pending before the City Council.”

The city also is authorized to subpoena the treasurer of the Committee to Recall Scott Peotter; campaign consultant Desnoo & Desnoo; and Campaign Compliance Group, which helps candidates, political committees and donors with campaign reporting requirements. As of Monday, only PCI had been served, a city spokeswoman said.

Council members Diane Dixon and Jeff Herdman, who voted against the investigation, wanted to avoid redundancy as the DA conducts its own inquiry. Recall organizers and their lawyers have said the city’s examination could impinge on constitutionally protected communications among activists and amounts to political retaliation.

A few weeks before the DA’s office seized the petitions, the registrar’s office announced that it had validated 8,339 of the 10,696 recall signatures submitted. That was 106 shy of the 8,445 — representing 15% of the city’s registered voters — needed to force a special recall election.

The recall committee racked up more than $130,000 in expenses, with about $108,000 for PCI’s services, according to campaign finance statements filed this year.

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