Seven people whom San Diego City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez claimed to have treated on different occasions to meals at public expense said Friday that they did not dine with the councilman on the dates he listed on city records.
Some of the people--U.S. Rep. Bill Lowery, his aide Dan Greenblat, and Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce President Lee Grissom--said they have not eaten with Martinez within the last year, and a Poway public official said Martinez never treated him at the Escondido restaurant listed by the councilman on his credit card expense forms.
Martinez, interviewed at his home Friday night, blamed the discrepancies on “mistakes” and said he left the expense form paper work to the clerical staff in the City Council offices.
“I certainly would not have submitted receipts to the auditor for payment . . . knowing it gets published, with the intent to be deceitful,” Martinez said. “Possibly, there may have been a breakdown in the reporting process in my office, and I want to check on that.”
Martinez’s secretary, Natalie Crosthwaite, said Friday night that her boss writes the names of the people he has treated to lunch on the back of the Visa card receipts, then forwards the paper work to her before it is sent to the payroll clerk. If Martinez forgets to write the names, she said, she copies names from his calendar book, which shows meal appointments.
“I usually don’t pay attention to those things,” she said. “They just pass from his hands to my hands to payroll, where they should go.”
Asked if it were possible for either Martinez or her to make a mistake about the councilman’s mealtime partners, Crosthwaite said: “Sure.”
Martinez said he hoped to meet with city auditors Monday to review the expense records, and he would reimburse the city for any amounts that were disallowed.
“If I’ve made mistakes, I’ll tell you I did,” the councilman said. “And whatever is meted out to me for a mistake, I’ll pay the piper as well.”
City Atty. John Witt said Friday night he didn’t know what to make of the discrepancies, but added, “If there is a falsification and these things didn’t happen the way they’re presented on paper, there would be at least a suspicion that there was a theft of public funds. That’s something that, if brought to our attention, we’d turn over to the D.A.'s (district attorney’s) office for investigation.”
California law says that embezzlement or falsification of accounts by public officers is a felony and is punishable by a maximum four years’ imprisonment. A conviction disqualifies the public official from holding any public office for life.
Records in the city auditor’s department show that Martinez used a city-issued credit card between July 1, 1984, and June 30, 1985, to run up bills of $6,369.62, which are paid out of money set aside to run his council office. Martinez’s aide, Rudy Murillo, used a city credit card during the same period to spend $3,132.63. The total for both men came to $9,502.25.
In comparison, other council members charged far less on city credit cards during the same year. Councilman Bill Mitchell charged $928.49, William Jones $929.99, Mike Gotch $2,468.52 and Mayor Roger Hedgecock $608.30, records show. Councilwoman Gloria McColl said she does not use a city credit card.
Council members also receive direct reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses.
Records show that Martinez and Murillo used their credit cards to pay for accommodations and meals while on city trips to Toronto and Washington.
They also routinely bought lunches or dinners at exclusive San Diego restaurants for other public officials, developers and businessmen, ostensibly while they discussed city business. Many of the meals cost more than $100 and $200, and one on Oct. 18, 1984, at Avanti Restaurant in La Jolla resulted in a $316.55 bill for five people.
But several of Martinez’s purported guests told The Times Friday that they were not present at some of the meals the councilman listed on his expense forms. Those meals came to a total of $353.33.
The meals in question include:
- A Sept. 6, 1984, outing with Mike Madigan, senior vice president of Pardee Construction Co., and Grissom at Dobson’s Bar and Restaurant, a block from City Hall. Martinez’s expense forms list the purpose of the meal as “EDC (the Economic Development Corp.) and Otay Mesa,” and the meal cost taxpayers $110.40.
Madigan and Grissom, however, both said they did not eat with Martinez on that date. Madigan said he has eaten with Martinez several other times, but Grissom said he has never had lunch or dinner with the councilman, nor has he ever discussed Otay Mesa matters with him.
- A Nov. 1, 1984, repast with Lowery and Greenblat at the Brigantine Restaurant to discuss “Tijuana sewer legislation.” The meal cost $130.74. Reached at his Washington home Friday evening, Lowery said that neither he nor Greenblat was at the restaurant, and the congressman added that he cannot recall having eaten with Martinez during the last year.
“I have met with Bill (Lowery) and Dan (Greenblat) to discuss the Tijuana sewer situation, among other things, including personnel matters. Again, I’ll have to check my records,” Martinez said.
- Two meals on May 28 with Poway officials. The first meal listed on the expense form shows that Jim Bowersox, Poway city manager, was Martinez’s guest at Mulvaney’s restaurant in Escondido for a $9.50 meal and discussion about the “sphere of influence” of LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission. The form said Martinez also hosted Bowersox and Poway Mayor Robert Embry at Los Arcos Restaurant in Escondido, resulting in a bill for $37.44.
Bowersox said he had “no recollection” of a May lunch and dinner with Martinez and added that he had “never eaten” at Los Arcos.
- A Jan. 8 meeting at Dobson’s with San Diego County Supervisor Brian Bilbray and Chula Vista Mayor Greg Cox. The officials discussed “South Bay issues,” according to Martinez’s records, and the meal cost $65.25.
Bilbray said his records show that he attended a San Diego Unified Port District luncheon that day, and he said he didn’t recall having a meal with Martinez but couldn’t rule it out. Cox ruled out having had any lunch or dinner with the councilman because he attended the Port Commission luncheon and later presided at a Chula Vista City Council meeting that went through the dinner hour.
“According to my calendar, I didn’t have any lunch or dinner with Uvaldo on that date,” Cox said.
Martinez said his records may show “the wrong day” for his meal with Cox and Bilbray.
While some businessmen said they were never guests of Martinez at lunch or dinner, others confirmed that they had been treated to meals as they were listed on the expense forms.
For instance, Salima Din, the official greeter at the Westgate Hotel, said she remembers the Oct. 24, 1984, meal with Martinez and three others. The meal cost $316.55. “Summer symphony downtown” was listed as Martinez’s purpose of the meeting.
And Sue Stephens Cox, president of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, confirmed that she was Martinez’s guest, along with a community college official, for a $161.99 dinner at Mister A’s in Hillcrest. The expense forms say they discussed proposed changes in the hotel tax.
But Lowery said he had “no recollection of having had lunch or dinner with Uvaldo in the past year. I’ve talked with Dan (Greenblat) and he doesn’t recall it, either. We went back and checked some of our records. I had schedule conflicts on Nov. 1, so I couldn’t have had lunch with him (Martinez) that day.”
Madigan of Pardee Construction said he did “not recall having lunch with Uvaldo on the 6th of September at Dobson’s.”
And Grissom said he “never had lunch with him, and I never discussed the issues” mentioned by Martinez.
“After hoping for the best, you get this gnawing hollow feeling that you’ve been used,” Grissom said, “and once that feeling kind of sinks in, you feel disappointed and a little disgusted about the whole situation. At its best, it is sloppy clerical work. At its worst, it smacks of fraud and illegal behavior.”
The latest controversy is not the first time there have been questions about Martinez’s use of public property. In 1976, when he was working as a city planner, he lost the privilege of using city automobiles after he was seen driving with an “unauthorized” person in one of the vehicles.
Martinez, interviewed at his Burlingame-area home Friday night, said the apparent discrepancies are “just probably not a good report on our part. All these events took place. We’ve got to check when.”
“My opinion is that if those guys are saying they weren’t there, I have no reason to say that they’re lying,” he said. “What I submitted to the (city) auditor was the best information I had at the time. If I screwed up, I need to look at it.
“I also want to sit down with the auditor. There is a possibility that if I can’t substantiate the credit charge, I may have to reimburse” the city.
He also said he was “feeling the heat” over his habit of charging the city for meals with developers and business executives. “To date, I’ve never wanted anybody to feel that I was into them,” he said of his meal guests.
“Obviously, I’m going to have to take a hard look at how I use the cards, at what things I use them for and how much I spend,” he said. “I’m certainly going to have to develop a policy that is a little more prudent.”
The councilman, who has said he buys meals for developers and business executives so he won’t feel beholden to them for his vote, said he will consider splitting the tab the next time he dines out on city business.
“That’s not a bad suggestion, although I wouldn’t take the consul general of Mexico to lunch at McDonald’s and split the tab,” he said.
Martinez also speculated that the furor over his use of credit cards may be politically motivated.
“This whole thing is very timely at a time when there’s a potential mayoral race coming up, especially when I’m aspiring to that seat if there’s something to run for,” Martinez said about the possibility of Hedgecock being removed from office if he is convicted of felony conspiracy or perjury charges.
“I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it’s interesting, isn’t it?” he said.
Councilman Ed Struiksma said Friday that he was not “drawing conclusions” about why there are apparent discrepancies on Martinez’s credit card expense forms. “I think the matter is extremely delicate,” Struiksma said. “I’m hoping for Uvaldo that he has a good explanation as to what’s happened.”
Times staff writers Barry M. Horstman, Jim Schachter, Bill Ritter, Glenn F. Bunting, Tom Greeley and H.G. Reza contributed to this story. Meals in Dispute
Date: 9/6/84 Place: Dobson’s Guests: Mike Madigan, vice president, Pardee Construction Co, Lee Grissom, president S.D. Chamber of Commerce Purpose: EDC Otay Mesa Amount: $110.40 Date: 11/1/84 Place: Brigantine Guests: Bill Lowery, congressman, Don Greenblat, Lowery’s aide Purpose: Tijuana Sewage Amount: $130.74 Date: 1/8/85 Place: Dobsons Guests: Brian Bilbray, County Supervisor, Greg Cox, Chula Vista Mayor Purpose: South Bay issues Amount: $65.25 Date: 5/28/85 Place: Mulvaney’s Guests: Jim Bowersox, Poway city manager Purpose: LAFCO Amount: $9.50 Date: 5/28/85 Place: Los Arcos Guests: Jim Bowersox, Poway city manager, Robert Embry, Poway mayor Purpose: LAFCO Amount: $37.44 Source : City Auditor report