The City of South Pasadena on Monday asked the LA District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division to review a citizen complaint that District 2 Councilmember Marina Khubesrian “used fictitious email accounts to threaten a colleague and wrote false public comments at a previous city council meeting.”
The colleague who was threatened was Councilman Michael Cacciotti and the false public comment attacked former city finance director Josh Betta, who has raised serious questions about how the city has been handling its financial reporting.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles DA’s office said, “Our office is reviewing the matter to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.”
Citing “relentless cyber bullying,” Khubesrian at Wednesday’s city council meeting said she was withdrawing from her three-week old bid for a third term. During a wrenching, eight-minute speech, she said “the last couple years have been really toxic on this city council and in the public. The online bullying of me and the city manager has been incredibly unfair.”
South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz told the South Pasadena News no conclusions should be drawn about the referral. He said SPPD “has done no investigation or evaluation” of the complaint. “It is quite common for law enforcement agencies to refer complaints to another law enforcement agency for their review and investigation, and that is what has happened here.”
Chris Bray, who submitted the material which the city referred to the DA, said the city’s press release understates his accusation. “What I have alleged as a possible crime is not that a councilmember sent fake public comments, though there’s very strong evidence that she has done so at least several times. What I have alleged is that a councilmember has established a pattern and practice of using false identities to attack, defame, and threaten people who criticize the city.”
His accusations were echoed in several public comments filed by citizens and read by city officials during Wednesday’s meeting before Khubesrian spoke, and included other allegations against her, as well as calls for her resignation.
Khubesrian did not directly address the accusations but said there are “social media people that are relentless in posting things that are not true and accusing me and [city manager Stephanie DeWolfe] of things that are not true.”
Khubesrian’s withdrawal from the race leaves John Donovan as the only person who has qualified to run for the seat, though the withdrawal also extends until Aug. 12, the deadline for additional candidates to file.
Khubesrian said during the Wednesday council meeting that three years ago “we hired a new city manager.” As a result, it was discovered that “our finance department was not doing proper accounting procedures and actually had some pretty old, old ways of doing things. Steps were taken in order to make the South Pasadena government a much more functional government and that for some reason has upset some people.”
Khubesrian said the past few years have been “very difficult for several of us, especially women that are on the council and [in] city management. I do believe that there is a great deal of misogyny and sexism and women are targeted in positions of leadership.” She said there needs to be a “conversation with the community” to address the problem.
The Councilmember said she’d been unfairly blamed for the treatment of Alison Smith, a resident who sued the city after sewage leaked onto her property. The city claimed the problem had to do with illegal work Smith had done at her home and sent inspectors accompanied by police to inspect her home.
Khubesrian said she had no hand in deciding how the inspection and other aspects of the case were carried out, adding “I have always recommended that they go into mediation and that the city would pay for that…I have done nothing but try to help that situation.”
“It is incredibly unfair to have this constantly be placed at my feet” by the people who raised the Smith matter in the public comments that were read before she spoke, Khubesrian said. “I am fed up with it and will not take it anymore. That’s why I am not running for city council.
“My 19-year-old daughter fears for her mother’s safety for just merely doing her job because of the relentless cyber bullying,” she said tearfully.
“I ran for city council about 10 years ago and I did it to make South Pasadena a better place. I feel very proud of the work I have done. I love this city and it pains me to see it going through this sort of phase. I’m thinking of it as growing pains. But at the end of the day, my family comes first. All three of my family members are not on board with me being on the city council anymore.”
Khubesrian said, “It is a time for us to grow. It’s a time for transformation. It’s a time for moving forward and being a better, stronger community.” She said she would serve out her term and remain engaged in city affairs, promising to make “good trouble” for the Council and community.
After Khubesrian finished, Mayor Robert Joe thanked her for her comments. Neither he nor any of the other council members reacted to her comments. The Council moved on to the next item, which was a presentation by the city manager updating the city’s COVID-19 statistics.