Photo by Keith May
Orange County CoastKeeper Garry Brown, who recently announced he’s seeking contributions to outfit the waterway-protection group’s patrol boat, has a judgment of more than $120,000 against him in connection with a Boy Scouts boat-donation program that he allegedly mismanaged four years ago.
“Mr. Brown did not serve the Boy Scouts well,” said Allen L. Thomas, legal counsel for the Scouts’ Long Beach Area Council (LBAC). Based on the Scouts’ experience, Thomas said “anyone who deals with Garry Brown should be dealing with him at arm’s length.”
According to Long Beach Superior Court records, the LBAC entered a written contract with Brown on Oct. 13, 1994, to manage its boat-donation program. Donors get tax deductions for giving the LBAC boats, which are then leased or sold to third parties. Brown was responsible for custody of the boats donated to the LBAC, mooring fees, and collecting money from sales and leases. In return, he was paid a commission for each boat sold or leased.
In a sworn statement filed with the court, Edward Karle, the council’s volunteer treasurer, said that sometime before July 1996, the Scouts became “increasingly concerned about monies not being provided to the LBAC for boats that Mr. Brown had sold or leased.”
Due to Brown’s failure to pay monthly mooring fees, a San Pedro yacht center sued the LBAC; other marinas sold three Scout-owned boats at lien sales, Karle added.
Karle provided the court with a list of more than 40 boats and transactions that, according to LBAC records, either were missing, were purportedly sold with no money transmitted to the LBAC, or had led to actual or potential claims against the council. The price tag for the lost boats and transactions—combined with unpaid mooring fees, damages from a lawsuit brought by a salvage company that did not get paid, and a judgment against the LBAC for leasing a boat with a defective engine—totaled $90,454.98.
Brown was fired on Aug. 16, 1996, at which time the Scouts demanded an accounting of money, boats and equipment owed to the LBAC. Karle accused Brown of failing to provide a “complete accounting.”
On July 24, 1997, Judge Joseph E. DiLoreto ordered Brown to pay $121,164.11, which included the claims, interest, court costs and punitive damages.
Brown told the Weekly his ouster from the Scouts program and the judgment obtained against him were the product of a personality conflict he had with a former LBAC director.
Thomas countered that Brown’s “failure to respond to a lawsuit is an admission that what was in the lawsuit was true.”
Brown explained he did not fight the suit because he concluded it would have cost him more to defend himself than the amount of the judgment. In fact, the judgment hasn’t yet cost him a thing: the Scouts have been unable to collect “because he’s asset-proof,” Thomas said.
Brown claims that when the Scouts first asked him about payment delays and what the nonprofit considered high costs of doing business, he opened his financial books to them.
“There was nothing,” Brown said. “I was never investigated. There were never any charges. There were a lot of boat donations. The IRS never said a word. When I was doing this for the Boy Scouts, I made more money for them than they ever had.”
In March 1999, the self-professed “environmentalist Republican” launched the nonprofit CoastKeeper, which is affiliated with the national WaterKeeper Alliance co-founded by Robert Kennedy Jr., to protect the 42-mile Orange County coastline from pollution. Like 34 other Keepers across the nation and Canada, the OC chapter has been willing to litigate or threaten litigation to keep waterways clean.
Reached by the Weekly, officials at the national WaterKeeper office in White Plains, New York, and California CoastKeeper in Santa Monica said they were unaware of Brown’s past problems with the Scouts.
“We don’t get into backgrounds of people; that’s up to each group’s individual board of directors,” explained Denise Barr-Washko, director of California CoastKeeper, a loose-knit coalition of Keeper groups throughout the state.
“Garry presented the idea of having a CoastKeeper in Orange County close to two and a half or three years ago,” Barr-Washko said. “We talked specifically about what he needed to do. Garry did all the work and showed interest and enthusiasm and dedication.”
The Scouts judgment was just one of many legal entanglements that ensnared the 48-year-old Anaheim native before he launched CoastKeeper. Brown was a building-industry front man who had helped usher in western San Bernardino County’s development boom when he was arrested in 1986. As reported in the Weekly (“Poo Fighters,” Nov. 26), Brown was forced to answer to 16 counts of pimping, pandering, keeping a house of ill fame, soliciting an act of prostitution, prevailing on a person to visit a place of prostitution, and other charges in what authorities and local headlines trumpeted as a “prostitution ring.”
Amid intense negative press coverage, Brown quit as executive director of the local Building Industry Association, turned in his honorary deputy sheriff’s badge, and resigned from the politically influential sheriff’s advisory council. He copped to one count against him, but a judge in 1989 exonerated him.
Public records show civil judgments against Brown dating back to 1982, when he was a city administrator and chamber of commerce leader in Redlands. Federal-tax liens of $24,621 and $73,980 were recorded against him in 1992 and 1999 respectively. Records also reveal state-tax liens of $5,117 in 1993, $642 in 1995 and $4,903 in 1997.
Brown acknowledged to the Weekly that he contacted the Internal Revenue Service last year to work out a payment plan for $70,000 in back taxes he owes because of his management role in a now-defunct trucking firm.
The Weekly received an anonymous tip to check Brown’s court record and past employment on the afternoon of Jan. 17. That morning, the Weekly fax machine had received a widely distributed press release from CoastKeeper announcing its intent to sue the Irvine Co. over the company’s looming Crystal Cove residential project.
After an earlier clash between CoastKeeper and Orange County’s largest private landowner, Brown says, a Newport Beach resident familiar with local political machinations took him aside and warned, “Garry, by now, the Irvine Co. knows everyone you’ve slept with.”
“Idon’t know anything about Garry Brown other than we are working with [CoastKeeper] to resolve their concerns about our project at Crystal Cove,” said Irvine Co. spokesman Paul Kranhold.
The source who tipped the Weekly claimed not to be affiliated with the Scouts or the Irvine Co., or even an Orange County resident. The tipster was apparently sent the Weekly cover story on Brown several weeks after it appeared; the source would not say who sent it.
“Obviously, with the nature of work people like us do, several interests get threatened,” Barr-Washko said. “I do think it is possible there is a direct correlation between the phone calls you’ve been getting and the work Garry’s been doing. People are threatened by it.
“He’s really done some phenomenal things for an organization that is not even a year old. In LA, we can get away with that and make more friends. But even when Santa Monica BayKeeper first started, allegations were thrown around that [the group’s leader] was part of the mafia.”
Brown introduced CoastKeeper to Orange County by testing Newport Beach’s Rhine Channel and releasing results that showed it was a toxic soup at a time when city officials were considering redevelopment on its banks. The project was put on hold.
As Huntington Beach was grappling this past summer with a mysterious bacteria scare in its coastal waters—a phenomenon some environmentalists feared might be tied to wastewater the Orange County Sanitation District pipes into the sea just beyond Huntington’s shore—Brown publicly hammered away at sanitation-district plans to send an even shittier mix of water into the ocean.
In October 1999, Brown put the Laguna Beach City Council on notice that CoastKeeper was prepared to sue over Aliso Beach pollution, especially if Treasure Island—City Hall’s pet resort project on the cliffs above the Pacific—further exacerbates the problem. That threat, combined with vociferous browbeating by local activists, prodded the city to take the issue much more seriously.
Also in October, CoastKeeper appealed a decision by state water-quality regulators to grant a runoff-discharge permit for the Irvine Co.’s exclusive residential development overlooking ecologically sensitive Crystal Cove State Beach. As part of the investigation of the Crystal Cove area, CoastKeeper tested the water flowing off the nearby Irvine Co.-owned golf course and decided to announce the potential suit.
Evidence of Brown’s skill as a lobbyist came in January when he checked into a Santa Monica hotel a day before the state Coastal Commission would meet there to scrutinize the Crystal Cove plans. Irvine Co. representatives, who also showed up to wine and dine commissioners the night before the public hearing, were confronted with the sight of Brown already there, schmoozing the decision makers.
Commissioners began the Crystal Cove deliberations the next morning by expressing grave concerns over the project’s threat to the pristine beach it overlooks. Suddenly facing further governmental-process delays to what company chairman Donald Bren has referred to as the “crown jewel” of his coastal developments, the Irvine Co. cut off further discussion by informing the commission it will bring new runoff-discharge plans before the panel in April.
CoastKeeper recently announced it is seeking donations to help outfit its 24-foot Crystaliner Heavy Duty Patrol Boat, which is used for pollution investigations, marine-education programs and water monitoring along the coast.
It remains to be seen whether Brown’s past will hinder CoastKeeper in raising funds and working with other local environmental groups. But any ammunition it gives powerful interests opposed to the group’s clean-water agenda will be of little use, Barr-Washko predicted.
“I think it’s like little bumps we get along the way,” she said. “Ultimately, it will not make a difference to the outcome.”
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.