ENCINITAS — Former Mayor Dan Dalager pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge in a Vista courtroom Feb. 9. He was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and serve three years summary probation.
The charge stems from Dalager’s acceptance of heavily discounted kitchen appliances in 2009 from Aztec Appliance owner Matthew Gordon who had business before the council several months later.
Gordon was cited for building an unapproved rock wall that encroached on the public right-of-way in front of his home on Neptune Avenue.
After receiving several notices, Gordon contested the violation for more than two years, culminating in an unsuccessful appeal to City Council in February 2010 in which Dalager and Councilwoman Teresa Barth voted in favor of Gordon’s appeal.
In October 2009, Gordon sold Dalager a cook top range, an oven and a duct cover for $150. Dalager said the price was set by the store. He also received a microwave.
Gordon said the appliances had no value to him because they were damaged or returned. Dalager claimed to have done nothing wrong in determining “fair market value” of the items. However, state law clearly states that the elected official is not the person to make that judgment.
State law prohibits elected officials from accepting any gift or combination of gifts from the same source in excess of $420 in any one calendar year. Dalager did not report the appliance gifts in 2009 on state-required 770 disclosure forms.
Despite having admitted to failure to report a $100,000 loan on a mandatory state disclosure forms for public officials and allegations of impropriety in his business as a consultant at a local bank in charge of soliciting new accounts, the district attorney only charged Dalager with one count of violating the Political Reform Act.
According to Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, who prosecuted the case, the best evidence to support the charge was in the investigation into the appliance deal. “We felt this was our best and cleanest count,” Schorr said. He said the other two issues would have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and that the standard was high based on the evidence.
“It’s a good result,” Schorr said referring to the plea. Dalager will not be able to run for public office for four years. In addition, Schorr said he must adhere to the terms of his probation. “In nine months he has to check in (with the court) and make sure he’s paid his fine,” he said.
However, Dalager can opt to perform 100 hours of community service in lieu of paying the $1,000 fine.
Search warrants were executed on Dalager’s home and Aztec Appliance on Sept. 30 of last year. According to court documents, several copies of checks and other documents were taken as well as photographs of the kitchen appliances Dalager received from Gordon.
“It is unfortunate that an Encinitas council member put his personal interests above that of the people he was elected to represent,” said former deputy mayor and current councilwoman Maggie Houlihan. “This is a very sad day for Encinitas.”
Carlsbad-based attorney C. Bradley Patton, who represented Dalager, could not be reached for comment.
Dalager, a two-term councilman, lost his re-election bid this past fall. During the campaign, Dalager maintained his innocence when questioned at candidate forums and in media interviews. He said that although he “goofed” up by not reporting the loan, he did not intentionally do anything wrong. He could not be reached for comment.
“I want to thank the public for keeping this issue in the forefront,” Councilwoman Teresa Barth said.
“I hope this restores some trust in local government,” she said. “It should send a clear message to us all that we should do our best when representing the public.”