In May 2010, for example, the charges on the city credit card assigned to Emil Marzullo, who was then interim director of the city Economic Development Agency, totaled $2,986 – including $1,088 for one outing at Benihana in Las Vegas.
And then-City Manager Charles McNeely spent close to $3,000 in January and February of 2011, much of it on travel and a number of staff meals in the $50 to $100 range, months after warning that severe budget cuts and new taxes were needed to reverse a pattern of deficit spending.
The credit card statements obtained by this newspaper were kept secret from elected officials for years before a new city manager took over in May, then were promptly turned over to the District Attorney’s Office as part of a criminal investigation, according to City Attorney James F. Penman. In July, the City Council voted to pursue Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.
Penman said he could not produce written evidence of his requests for financial information, which would have included credit card statements, because they are part of an ongoing investigation.
But conferences were part of an important effort to bring developers to an economically struggling city, Marzullo said.
He said the staff dinner at Benihana came during a conference that also included discussions with Regal Cinemas, leading to one of the few successful city developments in recent years.
“We got a lot of people interested, we had a number of follow-through meetings,” Marzullo said. “This is where anyone who’s anyone in retail is going. You meet with them, you set up the meetings, generally, there.”