Business owners and residents in Little Italy tomorrow will hold a press conference decrying what they say is an unjustified severing of the money they deposit into a special fund to pay for maintenance of their neighborhood’s features, such as the iconic fountains, artwork and green trash cans scattered throughout the district.

Scott Kessler in the city’s economic development office told the Little Italy Association on Feb. 27 that the special maintenance funds were being cut off until further notice, and that further questions should be directed to City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

Until today, the Little Italy Association officers say all they’d been told from the City Attorney’s Office was that their agreement with the city for fiscal year 2007 had not yet been approved by the city attorney, although it was approved by the City Council in June. A letter from the City Attorney’s Office dated March 9 ordered the Little Italy Association to “immediately cease any management and/or administration of the [Little Italy Business Improvement District].”

The City Attorney released a statement at 5:00 p.m. today in response to the contention of the Little Italy that the funding cutoff and his orders to cease operations were without reason. In the statement, Aguirre said he was aware that federal and local law enforcement agents served a search warrant in October 2006 on “the offices that administer the Little Italy Business Improvement District and the Maintenance Assessment District.” Because of that search warrant, Aguirre said the city was reviewing and investigating how the neighborhood association spends its funds.

But Theresa McAteer, the attorney representing the Little Italy Association, said neither the offices nor any officers acting on behalf of the association have ever been served with a warrant dealing with the Little Italy Association.

McAteer said a warrant has been served on the offices of the association’s executive director, Marco Li Mandri, who is a consultant for dozens of other business improvement districts in California. But McAteer said she’s been told by Li Mandri’s attorney, Pat Hall, that the warrant does not concern Little Italy. Hall could not be reached for comment late this afternoon.

McAteer criticized Aguirre’s statement.

“That’s a lie,” she said. “That’s a flat-out lie. No search warrant was served on Little Italy.”

McAteer said she first heard about Aguirre’s supposition that the search warrant was linked to Little Italy in a 2:30 p.m. telephone call with him. She said since the warrants are sealed, he should not know what they say. She also said that Aguirre told her today that he didn’t know what the warrant actually says.

When informed of the city attorney’s news release in his office late this afternoon, the secretary of the Little Italy Association, Tom Di Zinno, said he “felt sick.”

“This is unbelievable,” he said, shaking his head. “This is worse than not knowing. The Little Italy Association has nothing to do, whatsoever, with whatever they’re investigating. [Aguirre’s] flailing.”


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