Probe: Councilman used political influence to broker contract
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/11/2011 07:29:45 PM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO – The City Attorney’s Office is looking into allegations by a former official that 4th Ward Councilman Fred Shorett offered to use his political influence to broker a business contract with the city.
Jason Desjardins, who in February resigned his 2nd Ward seat on the City Council amid an alleged conflict of interest involving his tow company and a contract with the city, says Shorett had previously told him he could find a buyer for the company for a finder’s fee so that Desjardins could stay on the council.
Desjardins alleges that when he expressed concern about his company’s agreement with the city not being transferrable to another company, Shorett told him he would handle it by getting the votes needed on the council.
The matter became public at last week’s council meeting as officials discussed extending the city’s contracts with six private tow carriers for five years.
“You might want to go and get some of your finder’s fee and apply that to a legal defense counsel,” Desjardins told Shorett when he spoke during time given to the public to discuss the tow contracts.
Desjardins told the council that an attorney informed him that Shorett could be committing a felony and that he told Shorett they both could go to prison over the matter.
According to Desjardins, he and Shorett were sitting in Shorett’s living room in December when Shorett asked him how much his towing company was worth.
Desjardins says the conversation came about as he was considering whether to stay on the council.
According to Desjardins, when Shorett asked him how much he could sell the business for, Desjardins told him around $800,000.
Desjardins says Shorett then asked him how much a finder’s fee would be on such a deal, and Desjardins said about 10percent.
Desjardins told the council that in response, Shorett said, “Wow, that’s about ($80,000). I can use that right about now,” and the two then “laughed a little bit”.
Desjardins said Shorett told him that transferring the franchise contract wouldn’t be a problem because of his influence on the council.
“Fred looked at me…and said, You know what? Let me handle that. I can get the votes,”‘ Desjardins told the council.
Shorett immediately denied the allegations.
“What you have just heard is an out-and-out fabrication,” he said.
According to Shorett, he did ask Desjardins if he was interested in selling the tow company and that it was a topic that came up in the context of Desjardins being able to remain on the council.
Shorett said Desjardins would have liked to sell the company to stay on the council but that Desjardins’ firm wasn’t worth anything without the agreement with the city.
The council later would vote 4-2 to approve the five-year agreement with the six tow companies, with provisions for transferrable franchise agreements.
Both Shorett and 3rd Ward Councilman Tobin Brinker, who cast the two dissenting votes, said the city should allow more competition for the city contracts. Shorett also was the only one to vote for his substitute motion calling for a one-year deal and non-transferrable agreements.
“Competition is key and there are not other businesses in this community that have the guarantee and the golden egg like we’re giving to these six particular companies,” Shorett said before the vote.
As for Desjardins’ accusations, Shorett said he knew someone who represented a company interested in buying Desjardins’ company but never was contracted to be a broker for either side.
Shorett said Desjardins took their conversation out of context and addressed a remark by Desjardins that Shorett only recently became licensed to do business consulting in the city.
“I am a small operator that operates out of my house and didn’t realize that I needed a business license, and I stated that earlier that I’ve taken care of that,” Shorett said.
Seventh Ward Councilwoman Wendy McCammack raised the issue at a meeting last month before the council voted to make Shorett mayor pro tempore.
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