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Police seize computer records, files

An ongoing investigation into Promote La Jolla’s financial dealings has taken on a new direction: seizure of documents and other materials relating to an audit being undertaken by the business improvement district.

Deborah Marengo, the group’s former president, said Tuesday that detectives served a search warrant on her office on Aug. 20. (

See her full statement.

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Monica Munoz, San Diego Police Department spokeswoman, confirmed that department’s financial crimes detectives, in an investigation tied to the city auditor’s report on the group, took files and computer records from Marengo’s office.

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Munoz added, “It doesn’t have anything to do with the architecture firm (Marengo-Morton Architects Inc.) where the files and computer records were kept.”

Paul Levikow of the San Diego District Attorney’s office said there would be no comment from the DA’s office until or unless criminal charges are made.

The city auditor conducted an investigation after receiving a call on the city’s Fraud Hotline. The probe concluded in a June 29 report that allegations of duplicate billings and misuse of city funds were substantiated.

At that time, documents were turned over to the city attorney’s office, which issues a statement saying they would “determine how to handle” the report and whether there were any “criminal or civil matters or ethical issues” to be resolved.

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PLJ’s board has been trying to resolve the issues, some of which involved funds raised and spent by the Promote La Jolla Foundation, a group made up of a number of the-PLJ board members.

In the meantime, the city has stopped collecting the fees that support PLJ and the city council has yet to vote on a 2010 agreement for the organization to continue to exist as a city entity. The group continues to operate on limited funds under its state nonprofit status.

“This is all very unfortunate but it’s not at all unexpected,” said Rick Wildman, president of Promote La Jolla. “Now that this matter is with law enforcement officials, I would have no other comment other than that it appears to be a continuing criminal investigation.”

In an e-mail to the Light, Wildman said he was advised last week that a certified public accountant from the city’s Financial Crimes Unit had come to the private CPA firm, Guerrrero, Jimenez, Diaz & Co., that was auditing PLJ’s records and picked up two banker’s boxes of original PLJ Foundation records.

As a result, Wildman stated in his email, “GJD & Co. will not be able to proceed with the audit until the original records are returned - in two to three weeks. The originals were taken and no copies were made.”

Marengo issues statement

Deborah Marengo on Tuesday issued the following statement about the search warrant served on her office:

On Aug. 20, the computers in my husband’s architecture firm were improperly seized by the City of San Diego based on false and misleading allegations against me personally as past president of Promote La Jolla. The City’s investigation stems, suspiciously, from an anonymous call to the City’s Fraud Hotline alleging accounting irregularities with Promote La Jolla. It is my belief that some of the new PLJ board members are carrying out a personal vendetta against me, motivated by old grudges over issues like paid on-street parking and other land use matters.

These individuals have unjustly questioned my integrity, my veracity, my honesty and my motives.

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For more than 12 years I have had the pleasure of serving with the finest community leaders and achieved many accomplishments for the betterment of the La Jolla community and the Business Improvement District. Everything we did was for La Jolla.

Wildman himself acknowledged bookkeeping errors appear to be blown out of proportion. I am confident that the City’s investigation will find no wrong doing on my part and that the accounting issues can be resolved professionally and transparently. Until that time, I will utilize every legal means to pursue those individuals who abused the city’s Fraud Hotline and who engage in perpetuating this distasteful and unnecessary drama.