BY SCOTT MARTINDALE / STAFF WRITER
Published: May 28, 2014 Updated: 7:19 p.m.
COSTA MESA – A former state lawmaker accused of improperly lobbying for the 2009 sale of the Orange County fairgrounds has been exonerated of wrongdoing, the latest development in an ongoing criminal probe of the failed sales effort.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday it found no evidence that former state Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, illegally influenced state officials when he discussed the proposed sale with his Sacramento colleagues in 2009, just months after leaving office.
State political rules require lawmakers to wait one full year after leaving office to be able to lobby their legislative colleagues.
“I’m very happy with the D.A.’s conclusion, and I expected that’s where it was going to end up,” Ackerman said. “I think some people on the fair board were just upset that there was an attempt to sell the fair and they wanted to do something about it.”
State officials put the 150-acre, state-owned O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on the auction block in 2009 amid a crippling state budget deficit.
Ackerman was hired in 2009 to research the prospects of the fairgrounds’ sale and to gauge political support; he worked alongside three OC Fair board members who pushed for the fairgrounds to be sold to a nonprofit agency that the board trio helped set up.
Critics called the move a conflict of interest and an effort to privatize a public asset.
Amid a torrent of opposition, the sale did not go through, and criminal investigators launched an investigation into whether public money controlled by the OC Fair board was illegally used to facilitate a private sale of the fairgrounds.
D.A. investigators initially found no evidence of wrongdoing following a 10-month probe, but reopened the case in January 2013 after a reconstituted fair board agreed to let investigators review all of the board’s confidential files. The probe is ongoing.
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