In 2018, CalPERS opened a fraud investigation into Santa Clara after seeing possible evidence that now dismissed City Manager Deanna Santana put Mark Danaj on the payroll for a three-day-a-week job just weeks before the six-month deadline for Danaj to remain on the CalPERS classic pension plan. Danaj had been fired from Manhattan Beach in January 2018 and wasn’t slated to start as Fremont’s city manager until July 2018.
Now, Danaj may lose his pension entirely.
The former Fremont City Manager was indicted in March for using City of Fremont credit for personal purchases, according to the Mercury News which broke the story Wednesday. Danaj is accused of spending more than $18,000 on a City of Fremont credit card for personal purchases that included technology, doctors’ bills, accommodations and food deliveries. Public employees convicted of felonies “arising out of or in the performance of” their jobs lose their CalPERS pensions.
Danaj resigned from his job as Fremont’s city manager suddenly and without explanation last September, taking with him a $360,000 severance package. The agreement forbids the Fremont council from discussing Danaj’s departure other than to say that it was by mutual agreement.
Some speculate that it had to do with Danaj’s September 2021 arrest on a domestic violence charge in San Francisco, which was subsequently dropped. The lawyer who negotiated Danaj’s severance agreement is Alison Berry Wilkinson, who also represents Santana and the Santa Clara police union.
Danaj worked with Santana in San José and with another Santana hire, Nadine Nader, in Manhattan Beach. His hire as Assistant to the City Manager in Santa Clara was rife with irregularities that included: a back-dated offer letter, starting work before a background check was completed, not having a badge or a City Hall office issued to him, and being fingerprinted remotely in Southern California.
CalPERS ultimately dropped the fraud investigation and Danaj collected $17,048 for 153 hours of regular pay during his eight weeks on the Santa Clara payroll, 4 hours of holiday pay, and 40 hours of management leave. His assignment was working with consultant Dan Fenton — the disgraced former director of the San José Convention Center who lost that city millions — on “destination development.”
Danaj isn’t the first of Santana’s 2017-2018 hires indicted for a felony. Scott McKibben — the stadium executive manager who quit before his first day on the job — was indicted in 2020 for soliciting graft in an Oakland Coliseum naming rights deal. McKibben took a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict of interest charge.