‘Missing’ Montebello Funds Gone To Restaurant Developer

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Whatever happened to the “missing” $1 million in the city of Montebello?

City officials are now saying it was used to entice a developer to build what is now an Applebee’s restaurant at Montebello Town Square.

The use of the funds was approved by the city’s redevelopment agency, according to a 70-page press release sent out by the city today.

The $1 million was given as a forgivable loan, or “agency grant,” to developer Henry Attina, also known as Hank Attina, to build an “upscale dining” establishment similar to “Hard Rock Café or Planet Hollywood with a Latin emphasis.”

A 1999 staff report indicated that the hope was to fill an as yet “untapped market” for an “entertainment venue and restaurant” as well as to “satisfy the long-time wishes of the Montebello community.”

The agreement with Attina’s company Prime Cuts, Inc., was approved in 1999 by redevelopment agency members Kathy Salazar, William Molinari, Mary Anne Saucedo, Edward Vasquez and Art Payan, who were also the city council members.

Molinari still sits on the city council and the redevelopment agency, while the city attorney who handled the agreement, Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, is also currently retained by the city and the redevelopment agency.

The redevelopment agency’s legal budget was recently upped by $400,000, from $60,000, because of mounting legal costs from lawsuits against the redevelopment agency.

Today’s release came after officials discovered a Union Bank statement that was not on the general ledger. It was the second bank account with seemingly unknown origins. In January, the city was notified of a dormant account with Banco Popular that it had not known about.

Both these accounts were not readily accounted for on the city’s general ledger, leading to a hunt by city officials for answers. Officials later determined that the Banco Popular account was part of a loan program made available to businesses around town that needed to make improvements to their buildings.

The Union Bank account however remained a mystery as attention from the media and even the district attorney’s office – which received a complaint amid the rush for answers – mounted over questions of whether someone absconded with $1 million in city funds.

All that anyone knew at the time was that originally there was about $900,000 in the Union Bank account, and currently a little more than $5,000 remains.

The account was so old that no one in the city was authorized to view the details of the account, and a special meeting had to be held by the city council to assign authority to current city officials.

Today’s release seems to indicate that the city has found some documentation, nearly 70 pages worth, to explain the whereabouts of the $1 million that was taken out of the account.

The documents indicate the city invested a little over $900,000 into Union Bank in November 1999.

A year later, the city cashed out a larger sum of $1,007,307.17. The bulk of the money was then wired in two parts to a company called Montebello Hillside, LLC, a company owned by Attina.

When the city received this information from the bank on Monday, Interim City Administrator Peter Cosentini said they were able to do some digging of their own.

They found that Montebello Hillside LLC was linked to an agreement the city made with Prime Cuts, Inc. which promised to bring an upscale dining establishment to the city. In the process the developer was given $1 million from the agency.

The release came with attachments of bank documents, the “owner participation agreement” with Prime Cut, Inc., and agendas and reports from the redevelopment agency meetings where the wire transfers and the agreement were approved.

Cosentini says he has found “nothing illegal, to date” in the documents they have dug up so far, though there are some “outstanding questions” such as where the original $900,000 came from and whether everything is “okay with the deal” to bring a restaurant into Montebello.

“With the answering of those question, we’ll have a closed case,” said Cosentini.

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March 10, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

One Response to “‘Missing’ Montebello Funds Gone To Restaurant Developer”

  1. J. Hernandez on March 11th, 2011 6:43 am

    What’s missing from your article is that Mayor Art Barajas and Mayor Pro Tem Frank Gomez turned over the investigation to Hank Attina’s best freind, the Ctiy Attorney Arnold Alvarez Galsman.

    Attina and Glasman go way back when Glasman was on the council with Molinari and Payan. Attina helped Glasman get elected to the City Council then used free meals at this restaurant to get the support of the new council members to make Glasman the City Attorney.

    Then Glasman as City Attorney supposedly acted in the “city’s interest” when he negotiated and wrote the contract agreements between Attina, best man at his wedding, and the city.

    This cozy relationship still exists, and Barajas and Gomez must be part of the Attina-Glasman political machine in Montebello that they gave full control over documents and the investigation to Glasman.

    What a bunch of self serving politicians we have in MonteBELLo.

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