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Top Ten Stories of the 1990s

December 30, 1999

From a news perspective, the 1990s in Newport-Mesa had it all.

Million-dollar embezzlements by officials in a city and a school

district. A sexual harassment scandal in the Newport Beach Police

Department that took down the chief and his top lieutenant. A hard-fought

and highly emotional political campaign over a proposed airport that

divided the north and the south. An ongoing environmental story. An

international sports star in our backyard. A devastating car crash and

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its aftermath, including what many called a modern miracle.

And as if that wasn't enough, the county went bankrupt.

Here are the Daily Pilot's picks for the top 10 stories of the decade.

1. EMBEZZLEMENTS. Financially, 1992 started off bad and ended even worse

in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

In January, Bob Dixon was arrested in front of City Hall for stealing

$1.8 million from the city. Then in October, Stephen Wagner was arrested

for embezzling nearly $4 million from the Newport-Mesa Unified School

District.

The twin embezzlements have had long-lasting effects. New leadership

was brought in at both City Hall and the school district in the wake of

the embezzlements, which led to major restructuring of those institutions

and, especially in the case of the Board of Education, major community

involvement in policy decisions.

The district is still recovering from Wagner's theft, as much in terms

of public trust as dollars and cents. When investigators searched

Wagner's Dover Shores home, they found paintings, mink-lined tuxedos,

jewels, china and a gold-plated piano.

In March 1994, Wagner was sentenced to five years in prison for what

was believe, at the time, to be the largest embezzlement from a public

agency in state history. He died while in jail from complications from

AIDS after spending about a year and a half in a medical ward. On news of

his death, many who worked with Wagner still could not bring themselves

to forgive him.

Dixon's former friends and colleagues, too, were stunned when he was

arrested. Many thought they had known him so well, and yet learned they

did not know him at all.

It turned out the 17-year employee had spent about 11 of those years forging more than 400 checks.

Like Wagner's, Dixon's home was filled with the fruits of his

ill-begotten money: a drawer full of silk ties, more than 1,000 compact

discs and some 20 umbrellas.

Dixon got four years for his crime and spent 18 months in prison

before being released to a halfway house. Strangely enough, Dixon left

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