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Was a computer glitch really to blame for Mitt Romney's failure to pay more than $18,500 in city fees on time?

The U-T San Diego claimed that was the case. Public records, however, seem to show otherwise. The records show that the Romneys sat on the bills for five months without any explanation for the delay.

Back on September 7, we reported that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was three-months late in paying the City of San Diego for fees associated with a multi-million dollar renovation project to his beachside home in La Jolla's posh Barber Tract neighborhood.

According to city documents obtained through a public records request on September 6, Romney had an outstanding balance of $18,520.63.

On September 10, three days later, the U-T San Diego published its own story claiming that Romney was one of 3,000 residents to receive late bills due to a "computer glitch." The report said little about the fact that when bills finally were issued, the Romneys failed to pay them on time.

Instead, Matt Peterson, a lawyer based in San Diego working on behalf of the Romneys, defended his clients.

“All customers of the city who have received one of these ‘late’ bills should request a complete audit and carefully review the invoices before sending in any payment.”

But shortly after that article in the U-T was published, we submitted another public records request asking for any and all documents and emails that identified the presence of a computer glitch as well as any documents that showed that 3,000 people were sent late bills due to some software malfunction.

Only one email turned up.

It was from Peterson to Michelle Sokolowski, project manager for the City. Peterson stated that he nor his clients were aware of the bill and asked if there was a glitch in the billing system.

Sokolowski then explained the timeline to Peterson; how in March 2012 the City sent a bill to Ann Romney's Belmont Massachusetts address for $17,921.67 for work completed from April 1, 2010 to February 29, 2012.

Then, one month later, the City sent another bill in April, this one for $18,520.63, informing the Romneys that their account "was in deficit."

According to an email exchange, Sokolowski said she was contacted by a representative for the Romneys shortly after the first bill was sent in March 2012.

"I received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as Ann Romney's secretary saying she was calling about the statement, so I know they received it.," Sokolowski wrote to Peterson. "I returned the call and left a message, but never got a call back."

"Was this one of those City billing glitches?" Peterson asked.

Sokolowski did admit to the lag in sending the bills out. "We have been told that the statements should be provided in a more timely manner, and hopefully on a monthly basis."

She went on to write "...the last invoice that was paid on this project was well over one year ago (March 2011), and there have been charges since then. Although the project has been placed on hold, there are periodic charges to it, since we still receive calls from the public with various questions and other minor items."

Then on July 17, Peterson sent another email to inform Sokolowski that the check was in the mail while apologizing for the late payment.

"Sorry for the delay," he wrote.

Yet despite the information, the U-T ran with the story that the Romneys were part of a citywide computer glitch and not just three-months late on paying their bills.

Go here to view Romney's bill and associated emails

http://www.sandiegoreader.com/documents/2012/oct/23/mitt-romneys-late-payments/

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Comments

Dorian Hargrove Oct. 23, 2012 @ 7:54 p.m.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Romney was five-months late. The Romneys were actually three months late.

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ricky Oct. 24, 2012 @ 12:29 p.m.

Dorian, thanks for the correction on the lateness of the bill. You should also correct your false assertion that the U-T claimed "that a computer glitch caused Mitt Romney to submit late payments." We claimed no such thing. We simply reported that he received one of the late bills that we wrote about in March. His building permit representative said that the Romneys spent some time reviewing the bill, given how late it was in coming. That was his response, not our "claim." We routinely contact the people we are writing about, to give them a chance to explain what happened. You have suggested, on Twitter, that we shouldn't do that. I have to say that's not a fair approach. As another example, you didn't contact the U-T before writing this item about us -- with the U-T mentioned in the headline. That is not a fair approach. Should you ever have a question about a Watchdog story, please don't hesitate to contact me at ricky.young @ utsandiego.com.

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