After confidential memo questions meals, trips and gifts, Newport Beach seeks investigation of assistant city manager

The city of Newport Beach has asked county prosecutors to investigate outgoing Assistant City Manager Steve Badum, saying he may have failed to report dozens of meals and other gifts from companies doing business with the city.

Badum denied the allegations, and said his retirement, effective May 2, is for unrelated reasons.

“If I had received things, I would have reported it,” said Badum, who is 57 and worked for the city since 2001. “As far as I’m concerned everything was appropriately reported. Some of these things may be social things.”

In a confidential memo to the Newport Beach City Council, City Attorney Aaron C. Harp lists 41 separate occasions when Badum may have received gifts from companies that received no-bid contracts and other financial benefits from Newport Beach.

In the memo, dated March 12, Harp asks the council if a criminal investigation is warranted.

State law requires public officials to report gifts of $50 or more on a yearly conflict-of-interest form. The maximum gift allowed is $460 annually from any single party, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission. In the memo, Harp indicated the city is concerned the gifts could be considered bribery.

Harp’s memo also warned that all the evidence gathered so far was circumstantial and “we have not concluded that Mr. Badum has accepted a bribe or fraudulently allowed a contract.”

Two members of the council, Mayor Ed Selich and Councilman Keith Curry, declined to comment Tuesday. Other council members could not be reached.

Harp declined to comment on the memo obtained by the Register.

Last month, the city filed a complaint against Badum with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Mike Lubinski, senior assistant district attorney, said only that prosecutors are reviewing that complaint.

The memo identified C.W. Driver, construction manager for City Hall, as one of the firms that may have given gifts to Badum. One of Badum’s responsibilities with the city was overseeing the $142 million City Hall project.

Representatives from the company did not respond to several requests for comment.

Badum dined 11 times between July 2008 and November 2014 with officials from C.W. Driver, the memo said. It is unclear from the memo how much the meals cost and who paid for them.

Badum also joined the company on a four-day trip to Pebble Beach last August, the memo said. “If Mr. Badum did not pay his way for this event, it is highly likely he would have exceeded the gift limits,” Harp wrote.

In an interview, however, Badum said Pebble Beach “was on my dime.”

After returning from Pebble Beach, Badum helped C.W. Driver get a tax break for its work with the city, said the memo.

“Our office has previously advised Mr. Badum that C.W. Driver had not submitted any evidence that it qualified as the primary designer and did not think C.W. Driver could submit this evidence,” the city attorney wrote.

Badum also had a professional and social relationship with Roger Torriero, chief executive for another company doing business with the city, Griffin Structures, according to the memo.

Torriero did not return several messages left at his office this week.

Badum awarded $345,405 in no-bid jobs to Griffin Structures from 2009 to 2014 and recommended another $195,000 worth of work, the memo said. The company also received another $1.3 million in contracts from the city that weren’t directly awarded by Badum as no-bid contracts.

Badum dined with Griffin Structures’ officials on 22 occasions between October 2006 and October 2014, at places like Fleming’s steakhouse and Javier’s Mexican restaurant, the city attorney said in his memo.

Harp’s investigation began Feb. 9 after Badum made comments to a city employee, who was concerned that Badum might not have reported gifts he had received.

The memo said Badum’s conflict-of-interest forms indicate “he has never accepted a reportable gift during his 14 years with the city.”

Harp’s office reviewed Badum’s electronic calendars from 2002 to the present, as well as email related to events he attended with consultants, according to the memo.

“Based on a review of this information, it appears likely that Mr. Badum accepted reportable gifts from contractors during his time with the city,” Harp wrote.

The city, Harp wrote, is considering litigation against the contractors and Badum, who is currently on bereavement leave.

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