Li Mandri says he didn’t know about a Mannino conviction until quite recently. However, his wife, Laura Li Mandri, says, “We found out through our attorneys” in the course of the FBI/police investigation. She and her husband claim they have never seen the final investigative report. She laments that critics see “some kind of mob connection” through Mannino. “If Italians are involved, they assume Mafia.”
Marco Li Mandri says his critics “believe there is some kind of mob connection and underworld connection. That is disgusting to me.”
The Li Mandri family is known for past organized crime ties. “There are definitely family ties to organized crime from two generations ago,” Laura Li Mandri allows.
Marco Li Mandri concedes that his family had mob ties two generations ago. But he says that is irrelevant. “No one has any evidence that I ever had anything to do with organized crime,” he says. “Isn’t it like the Kennedys?” (The patriarch of the Kennedy clan, Joe Kennedy, had close business and financial ties with rum-running hoodlums during Prohibition. His son, President Jack Kennedy, had a mistress in the White House who was a communications cipher between the President and Chicago hoodlum Sam “Momo” Giancana.)
Marco Li Mandri is also not perturbed by anyone’s offenses 30 years ago. “You are not the same person you were 30 years ago. Scott Kessler is not the same person he was 30 years ago,” Li Mandri says.
Marco Li Mandri bitterly denounces Kessler and the FBI/police report. Kessler, who had been a friend since their 1970s days at the University of California San Diego, has a vendetta, insists Li Mandri. Li Mandri sent a transcription of a voice mail that Kessler allegedly left on his phone during the heat of their battle. Li Mandri stresses that it ends with Kessler saying, “I’m going for the jugular, dude.”
Here is the transcription of Kessler’s full message. “I’m not going to be intimidated by you and you know a couple of months ago I told you I wasn’t goin’ to pay you until the end of the…until the contract was finished. Everything is always somebody else’s fault. Marco, there’s…you’ve got a lot of stuff riding…so if you want to go to war…you’re going to lose and if you want to talk to me and work this out, that’s fine but, uh, if you continue to lobby and try to disparage my character I’m going for the jugular, dude.”
“I don’t want to relive this turmoil all over again,” says Li Mandri. “It consumed my life for five to six years, was very costly, and made me consistently defend my reputation. I have gone out of my way to clear my name against these charges. The lawsuit, which in essence blames me for [Kessler’s] firing, is all speculation. The allegations he [Kessler] made against me have no substance.” Li Mandri says he has lost a lot of business because of the battles.
“This cockamamie idea floating around has no basis in legal reality,” Li Mandri complains. He says the police and FBI are clumsy. “They have turned my life around, raiding my house” in front of his children. “How can you raid someone’s house for documents when you already have possession of them?”
Li Mandri argues that a 2005 decision by the attorney general’s office got him off the hook. The office put forward the question, “Is a person who was hired by a city as a consultant in the process of forming a business improvement district precluded from being hired after formation of the district by a nonprofit corporation that is under contract with the city to manage the district?” In a six-page report, the attorney general’s office basically concludes that the consultant is not precluded from being hired after the district is formed. This was a reversal of a previous stance by the attorney general’s office.
However, this decision addressed only some of the conflicts of interest that Kessler was pointing out, says his lawyer, Gruenberg. It didn’t touch on other instances of Li Mandri’s violations of open and competitive procurement laws. Mike Aguirre, who was city attorney while the battle was going on, disagreed with the attorney general and took Kessler’s side.
In late 2007, Aguirre wrote the Little Italy Association, “The municipal code requires the nonprofit to advertise for sealed proposals when contracting for goods and services where the expenditures will be greater than $50,000. At present, we conclude that the association has not complied with these requirements. A sole-source agreement with [New City America] under these circumstances would be inappropriate.”
Li Mandri has always argued (indeed, argued to the Reader) that he is only the administrator of the Little Italy Association and not a voting boardmember. Therefore, there is no conflict when the association gives a fat contract to New City. But Aguirre’s office came up with letters in which a boardmember suggested that Li Mandri serve as president of the association and another reference in which Li Mandri is named as chairman. (Laura Li Mandri says that only means he chairs meetings.)
The local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it couldn’t comment on why the report that its agent coauthored was not acted upon. The district attorney’s office would not address that topic. The mayor’s office was asked specifically about the roles of various administration personnel in the Kessler matter, but there was no response.
“Scott Kessler is a man of credibility,” says Aguirre. “His issues should not be dismissed and should be resolved by a fair-minded, neutral judge. Why Li Mandri would be allowed to do business with the City is beyond understanding.”
“This is a story about Bonnie Dumanis, [who] protects people in power,” says Aguirre.
Li Mandri, who has been a big political donor to a number of officeholders since the early 1990s, concedes he gave money to Dumanis, but he says he hasn’t seen her for a year and a half. “I certainly have no control over Bonnie Dumanis because I gave her a donation,” he says. And he says he does not have the power to get any City official fired, although he admits he complained about Kessler to the mayor.
As to the charge that Kessler is waging a vendetta, his lawyer Gruenberg points out that the FBI and police agents say that everyone they nail accuses them of having a vendetta.