Newport Beach police took hotel freebies for favors, lawsuit claims

A former parking control officer said he was fired from the Newport Beach Police Department for reporting that senior officers were receiving free suites, spa days and alcohol from a high-end hotel in exchange for favors, according to a federal lawsuit.

In his suit, Zachary McEligot alleged that the Island Hotel in Newport Center near Fashion Island would give officers freebies worth thousands of dollars in exchange for easing the license process for massage therapists and turning a blind eye to parking violations.

Officers would also ask hotel security to destroy surveillance tapes, according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 23 in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana. The suit, which names the city of Newport Beach, was first reported by the OC Weekly.

The police department declined to comment on the allegations, but Newport Beach City Atty. Aaron Harp said the lawsuit is without merit.

“There’s no evidence there was any wrongdoing by any members of the Newport Beach Police Department,” Harp said.

“People who are disciplined by a government or city, rather than take personal accountability for their actions, look for some other reason for why they were disciplined.”

McEligot said the tip for the alleged wrongdoing came from a spa director at the hotel, and that he believed the information was true when a department captain told him and another parking officer not to enforce violations at the hotel, the suit alleges.

The suit said the police department launched an investigation after he made his allegations, in which he reported the police chief, a captain and other officers to his superiors.

McEligot, a 14-year employee, said he was soon the victim of retaliation and was wrongly suspended, the victim of negative performance evaluations and ultimately fired in October 2012.

“It is clear that defendants sought to terminate [McEligot] in retaliation for his disclosures of illegal activities by high ranking members of the NBPD,” his attorney Joseph Avrahamy said.

A now-retired Newport Beach police captain, James Kaminsky, was fined $1,000 in 2010 by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which concluded Kaminsky failed to report more than $1,200 in gifts from the Island Hotel and others between 2007 and 2008. The commission said the captain received free lodging, spa passes, meals and tickets to a Chicago Cubs game.

The city has not filed a response to McEliot’s lawsuit. The Island Hotel did not have an immediate response.

Twitter: @AdolfoFlores3

Flores writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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