Anthony Wagner, the former Santa Barbara police spokesperson and retail cannabis regulator at the center of a tantalizing but ultimately inaccurate Los Angeles Magazine article, is demanding the publication retract the lengthy expose by screenwriter Mitchell Kriegman and pay $4.6 million in damages and attorneys’ fees. The demand came in the form of a seven-page letter sent June 11 by Wagner’s attorney, Michele B. Friend, to magazine president and publisher Shelby Russell. Should Russell fail to respond, a lawsuit is likely to be filed.
“Mr. Kriegman and LA Magazine paint a shocking cinematic picture for a reader to believe that Mr. Wagner is like a mobster with a history of corruption who was not fit to be hired but mysteriously got the job through an improper relationship with a female supervisor, that he impersonated a police officer, waiving his badge while assaulting a private citizen, and that he misused his position to gain valuable cannabis licenses for his friends,” the letter stated while outlining what it describes as the article’s “32 gross inaccuracies.” “The outrageous claims are entirely false and misleading, and they have caused significant damage to Mr. Wagner and his family.”
The focal point of the March 12 piece was a not-so-veiled accusation that Wagner gave special treatment to a retail cannabis applicant with whom he’d previously worked in San Diego. That allegation, however, turned out to be false, and an investigation launched by the Santa Barbara Police Department exonerated Wagner of any wrongdoing.
The magazine issued a correction on the point but has so far not addressed any of the other reported inaccuracies, Friend said, including misrepresentations of Wagner’s professional background and the level of his involvement in Santa Barbara’s cannabis permitting process. While Wagner was cleared of misconduct, his reputation was sufficiently publicly tarnished that his position was eliminated in the department’s latest budget and he now finds himself out of work.
Friend also excoriated Kriegman for not allowing Wagner to respond to the accusations against him prior to publication, and she noted how multiple Santa Barbara news outlets had previously declined to publish the story based on its “faulty reporting” and lack of proper fact-checking. Kriegman, she said, had to go “100 miles outside the city of Santa Barbara to find a publisher for his Attack Piece.”
Speaking for the publication, Editor in Chief Maer Roshan pointed the Independent to comments he’d made in a May 21 article by the magazine on the conclusion of the police investigation and the local blowback the story generated. “Santa Barbara’s complex relationship with the cannabis industry is a fraught subject that triggers a vocal response every time we cover it,” he said. “Mitchell Kriegman’s story on Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Anthony Wagner was no exception.”
Kriegman’s piece ― which included a typo in the opening paragraph that described Santa Barbara as a “gentile” rather than “genteel” community ― “underwent a succession of edits and a rigorous fact-check before it was published,” Roshan insisted. He said the magazine quickly corrected the allegation that “inaccurately linked Wagner to a local cannabis owner,” but “aside from that, there were no significant factual mistakes in our piece.”
“We respect the results of the investigation and stand by our story,” he said.