Former Santa Barbara Police Official Sues L.A. Magazine Over Controversial Cannabis Story
Readers are by now well aware of the ongoing saga involving former MJ writer Mitchell Kriegman’s explosive exposé on city hall cannabis-related corruption that ran on March 12 of this year in the Los Angeles Magazine. The star of Kriegman’s story: Anthony Wagner, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Police Department, who also played a role in the city’s marijuana dispensary licensing process. Per the piece: Wagner, who was previously involved in cannabis politics in San Diego, had an improper relationship with Micah Anderson, one of the owners of the Golden State Greens dispensary, who Wagner knew from his prior role as San Diego Planning Commissioner. After winning the license, Golden State Greens swiftly exited the scene by flipping its lucrative permit to an outside investor, Jushi, Inc., for a reputed seven-figure price tag.
As it turns out, however, Anderson, while involved in a separate Golden State Green bid to operate a dispensary in California, was not involved in the outfit that won a permit from Santa Barbara. Also: Wagner was just one of several people involved in the licensing process. Furthermore, an independent investigation commissioned by the City Attorney’s Office and awarded to the Sintra Group found no evidence of wrongdoing by Wagner. As the facts surrounding this central aspect of Kriegman’s 4,000-word story became clear, L.A. Magazine updated and clarified the story, apologizing for any confusion.
A major update to the controversy occurred on June 11, when Wagner’s law firm, Clark & Trevithick, sent a letter to L.A. Magazine demanding the publication of a retraction letter, as well as complete payment for his lawyer fees and an additional $4.6 million in damages. In the letter, which alleged 32 “gross inaccuracies” in the story, also claimed that Kriegman, who now lives in Portugal, had been recruited by a “smear campaign” after other reporters passed on the piece.
“Mr. Kriegman never discussed his wild allegations with Mr. Wagner prior to publication,” the letter states. “Even after L.A. Magazine received . . . accurate information from Mr. Wagner, it still refused to correct the record.”
Noting that Wagner had been placed on administrative leave, his lawyers argued that the story unfairly and inaccurately depicted him as “unethical and criminal” in the minds of the public, thus leaving his reputation in tatters.
Wagner declined to comment for this story. So did L.A. Magazine editor Maer Roshan, who referred MJ to his quote which ran on May 24 in an update to Kriegman’s story published by the magazine. In his statement, Maer said that Kriegman’s original 8,000-word draft “underwent a succession of edits and a rigorous fact-check before it was published in much-condensed form on our website . . . While our article never suggested he engaged in any illegalities, we felt some of those criticisms merited additional scrutiny. The city of Santa Barbara apparently agreed. We respect the results of the investigation and stand by our story.”