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Antonio Rests His Case: AEG Told Him How to Scam the Ethics Laws

QUESTION May Mayor Hahn use his officeholder account to pay to attend the Academy Awards, GRAMMY Awards, and sporting competitions such as the NBA All-Star Game, and similar events held in the City?

Jimmy Hahn was boring and unimaginative but he wasn’t stupid or an incompetent lawyer and he didn’t think he was anything except the mayor of Los Angeles — not its king.

That’s why he asked the Ethics Commission in 2004 how far his official and ceremonial duties extended and how he should deal with attending major sports and entertainment events.

Here’s the heart of the answer LeAnn Pelham, executive director of the commission, gave him (read full letter hereEthics-Advice.pdf:

“The Mayor acts not only as the City’s chief executive but also as its business ambassador and chief marketer. As such, officeholder account funds may be used for the Mayor to attend the Academy Awards, the GRAMMYs, or the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles, subject to the application of the blackout period
Your letter also inquires as to whether Mayor Hahn could use officeholder funds to pay to attend events “similar” to the Academy Awards, GRAMMY Awards, and NBA-All Star Game held in the City of Los Angeles. Without further information as to the specific nature of those events and the role the Mayor would play in attending them, we cannot provide advice to you regarding whether officeholder funds may to used to pay for him to attend such events.”

In other words, pay for the tickets out of the $75,000 you can raise a year for your officerholder account and represent the city at these major events. The blackout period she referred to is the 12 months before an election which means Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could not use this reading of the law from March 2008 to March 2009 when he was narrowly elected to a second term without a runoff against runner-up Walter Moore.

This is the document the mayor’s lawyer Brian Currey distributed to the news media Friday along with records of 99 event freebies — documents the mainstream media reported shed little new light on the conflicts of interest the mayor had in taking valuable tickets from AEG and others.

The gap between the advice given Hahn by ethics officials about paying for tickets and the propriety of attending major events like the Oscars in his official capacity and taking freebies to just about any event he wanted to attend and bringing friends and family with him was filled by none other than AEG, the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars in city subsidies.

AEG lobbyist Chris Modrzejewski asked Villaraigosa to attend the Lakers home opener on Nov. 3, 2005 and recognize the Lakers Youth Foundation in a halftime ceremony, saying in an email exchange with staff:

“For the mayor to accept the tickets he must have an ‘official’ role. For tomorrow it would be to at half time present a certificate to the Lakers organization for their work in the community. He will present it to either [former Lakers star] Magic Johnson or [team executive] Jeanie Buss depending on availability…I’ll get you some language for a cert (certificate).”

Around the same time as that email, David Zahniser of the Times noted: “Villaraigosa supported a plan — ultimately approved by the City Council — to provide at least $246 million in tax breaks for a hotel planned for the AEG development known as L.A. Live. AEG shows up in the mayor’s records as the donor of two tickets for Lakers games. Villaraigosa’s records do not show who paid for the mayor to attend some of the concerts held at AEG facilities, including performances by Shakira, Juanes and Tina Turner.”

Prior to Nov. 3, the mayor’s event log shows he attended only two events: Chivas vs. America soccer game and an Aretha Franklin concert, presenting certificates at both. He participated in the Latin Grammy Awards pre-show the day of the Lakers opener and only one more event in 2005, the UCLA-USC football game. His freeloading gathered steam in 2006 with 24 events listed.

According to the ethics advice letter to Hahn, elected officials are barred from using their officeholder accounts to pay for events and various other things during the 12-month “black-out period” before an election .

“These types of expenditures are prohibited from the officeholder account during the black-out period so that they are not used or perceived to be used to benefit the officeholder’s campaign for re-election to elective City office,” the letter states.

The mayor attended more than 20 events between March 2008 and the March 2009 but since he’s a freeloader he didn’t violate the city ethics law in that regard since he didn’t pay for any of the tickets and didn’t report them.

But by his own admission that he was always in every case acting in an official capacity, he violated the law by promoting himself and his campaign for re-election — not to mention promoting the city as its “business ambassador and chief marketer.”

Maybe we should just forget the whole thing like the mayor suggests on the first page of the 422 pages he released.

“Applicable regulations provide that a ticket or pass received by an elected official is not a ‘gift’ if the official performs an official or ceremonial role or function on behalf of the agency. If the ticket or pass is not a ‘gift,’ it is not reportable and is not subject to gift limitations. Thus,
there was no requirement that the Mayor maintain records about the number, source, or value of the tickets or admissions received.”

His attorney Brian Currey reiterated that view at Friday’s press briefing, according to Rick Orlov in the Daily News.

“It has been the mayor’s practice to engage in official acts while attending these events. He feels, very strongly, it is part of his job to attend the important entertainment industry, cultural events and sporting events in the city of Los Angeles.”

As to all those concerns about conflicts of interest hidden by the mayor’s failure to report his freebies, Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo offers this ends justify the means logic:

“Do you remember what downtown looked like?” Szabo said. “It is part of the mayor’s duty to promote development.”

Maybe we shouldn’t just forget about the whole thing but say, “Thanks, Mr. Mayor, job well done.”

All of this reminds me of the Alabama politician got re-elected after being caught taking bribes and kickbacks by declaring, “Sure I stole but I stole for you.”

Villaraigosa now says he will pay for the tickets or pay fines if the Ethics Commission investigation finds he violated the law. “If it’s determined that the mayor needs to reimburse for guests, then he certainly will do so,” Currey added.

The mayor’s bigger problem is the likelihood District Attorney will more from making an inquiry to conducting a full investigation with subpoenas and a grand jury and look beyond “Ticket-Gate” to meals and fine wines he’s taken as gifts and the links between fund-raising for the mayor’s various political and other campaigns and the mayoral favors bestowed on donors.

If the mayor gets away with this, he will have achieved something historic: Abolished the rule of law with regards to city and state ethics laws meant to prevent political corruption.

For that he would deserve a place the Political Hall of Fame — or it is Shame.

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20 Responses to Antonio Rests His Case: AEG Told Him How to Scam the Ethics Laws

  1. Anonymous says:

    What is shocking was yesterday when a reporter asked the Mayor if he didn’t see anyting wrong with what he’s been doing getting freebies. He had the audacity to tell the reporter, “you’re the only one who has a problem with it, the people are find with it.” HELL NO WE NOT.
    Mayor has shown the entire nation he has no class, no ethics, behaves like the Mexican Mafia thug he is, behaves like an uneducated clown, and the TAX PAYERS are footing the bill for his screwing around. There is definitely pay to play here and I hope reporters keep the HEAT ON. DIG DIG get those development, lobbyist and CRA bullshit deals in exchange for freebies

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is HILARIOUS!!!!
    “$120,000 tab trip to Copenhagen to tell the world as an official mission “of the ground-breaking work that the city of Los Angeles is doing to combat climate change and build the green economy” Instead of wasting our dime in the middle of the worse financial crisis in the history of this city and traveling around the world, the Mayor needs stay in the city and tell the idiot Councilmembers not to have firework shows that affect the Air which was already voted the worse. Its only a matter of time before this cocky asshole gets Nailed. He’s saying previous Mayors had to obey ethic laws but not Him?&*(#%%&*

  3. Walter Moore says:

    Villaraigosa’s lawyer lied to the press. Details to follow….

  4. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone know if Jan Perry got gifts, meals, and favors from anyone who works with Regency Realty, Inc. This is the Florida developer of the Slauson Central project Perry is pushing to get a guaranteed 18% profit to build a shopping center.
    If there were gifts to Perry, it would go a long way to explain why she is so enthused to hand millions to an out of state developer.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Remember the City Council meeting on the AEG signage when idiots like Ed Reyes and Jan Perry refused to listen to City Attorney and followed the advice of the AEG attorneys. This record should be part of subpoenas when issued. The Mayor is the tip of the iceberg. The City Council is equally corrupt.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Walter, thank you for working hard to expose this sleazy mayor. It’s a shame that out of PC both so called newspapers in this city wouldn’t investigate this corruption. Please know we support you and appreciate your efforts.
    Signed, citizens of LA.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The bastard sold the city cheap; for a handful of freebies.

  8. Our termed put mayor will soon be collecting his pension. No wonder he is against pension reform.

  9. Anonymous says:

    What is truly outrageous is we’re paying for those arrogant, idiot lawyers who are defending the Mayor’s corruption. Damn, how many does he have? I counted at least 3 at the press conference. What many find particularly odd is where is the Mayor’s Village Idiot Chief of Staff been hiding, Jeff Carr? Lil Matt Szabo was the pr person then promoted to Deputy Mayor and he’s still doing the pr spin but the problem is the Mayor’s handlers are some of the worse ever. They are all over the place, stepping on each other’s lies, commenting when they shouldn’t be etc. They did such a bad job I don’t think Walter Moore or DA’s office will have any trouble finding the dirt

  10. anonymous says:

    All valid ethical concerns aside, what better way to show support for such events in LA than to pay to attend them from one’s account? Such symbolism goes further than attending on someone else’s dime.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Actually Jack, he’ll not need his pension. He was up for a job in the Obama administration and, barring any illegal activities, will get one.
    The thinking is that he will get a high profile job in an effort to appeal to Latinos, who have been wavering in their support of the President.
    Barring that, he will go back on the payroll of the likes of Brackpol and others when he is done being Mayor.
    Isnt our political system grand?

  12. anonymous says:

    To Anonymous on June 27, 2010@6:11 AM -
    What percentage of Latinos still support him?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Mayor V and Steve L….living it up in the rafters…glad to see the Mayor still has his humor, because I’m not sure if L.A. still has its “DIGNITY”…

  14. District Attorney Steve Cooley needs to file charges against Villaraigosa. This story has gained too much traction, and by ignoring it, he places himself in a bad position versus Kamala Harris this fall.
    By following the rule of law and charging Villaraigosa with corruption and election violations, Cooley would be showing voters that he is the right man for the job of Attorney General.
    I am hoping he does the right thing.
    (Disclaimer: I am supporting Cooley for the position of Attorney General.)

  15. Anonymous says:

    Welcome to Self-Promotion 101: The Cult of Mayor V and Propaganda:
    Baseball, hot dogs, and AV…political campaign powers must be playing up to our nostalgia…service with a smile…”The mustard is off the hot dog!”…and England was robbed of their second goal by blind soccer referees…”God Save the King!”

  16. Anonymous says:

    Readers to the Times are pointing out that Steve Lopez had to have pulled strings of his own to get those front-row seats to a Dodgers-Yankees games last minute, when they weren’t his own season seats. Which he admits are down on the field like the Mayor’s except he pays for them. Well, that’s not the only difference between an opinion writer and the mayor, for pete’s sake: even if we think he’s a fool and isolated from reality, the mayor IS the mayor and had to go through a grueling and expensive process to get elected, every aspect of his personal life is subjected to scrutiny – while like all “reporters,” Lopez only tells us about himself what he wants us to know, nothing more.
    Also, while it makes the mayor more popular to mix with the hoi polloi, it’s also his job to mix with the movers and shakers, like it or not.
    However Eric Garcetti among other officials is on record saying that he wouldn’t accept tickets from those with business before the city without at least recording and reporting them promptly.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I can’t wait until the citizens of this “Golden” State reward AV by voting him Governor, then by crowning him President…then they’ll really get what’s coming to them…”ABSOLUTE CORRUPTION…CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY”…AV is definitely not a SHAKER…or in his words “Pollyanna”…I guess the rest of us will have to endure HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’ FAUX PAS…Oh “LEST WE FORGET”: “You salute the rank, not the man.”

  18. Anonymous says:

    “Do you remember what downtown looked like?” Szabo said. “It is part of the mayor’s duty to promote development.”
    Szabo is now the Chief Planner for the city. Amazing man. Ofcourse the Mayor promotes development, since that is the biggest source of his freebies.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Steve Cooley isn’t man enough to criminally prosecute Antonio Villaraigosa. Just like he isn’t man enough to go after a number of big City Hall and County Supe types. All he can muster is frickin’ South Gate. Whoa.. big time.
    “This just in, Steve Cooley has filed charges against skid row residents for loitering. Film at 11.”

  20. Anonymous says:

    “Let’s be clear. Honesty and ethics in City Hall start at the top,” Villaraigosa said in his first news conference at City Hall. “We are the public’s servants. We must set a higher benchmark by our actions to restore the public’s faith and trust in local government. Today, we have begun to do just that.”
    Mayor Villaraigosa
    Executive Directive No. 1
    Ethics in Government
    July 5, 2005
    This article is worth reading in its entirety.
    City Council Adopts New Ethics Rules
    By Patrick Mcgreevy
    July 06, 2005
    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council took steps Tuesday to tighten ethics standards to prevent city commissioners and other officials from misusing their power for political or financial gain.
    The actions came as an ethics expert and others questioned the propriety of Villaraigosa’s inaugural gala, which allowed firms that have business before city officials to spend up to $100,000 to attend. The money from Thursday’s event went to a publicly funded charity that is run out of the mayor’s office.
    The ethics reforms enacted by the mayor and council were praised by good government advocates as long overdue. But several, including Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in the Los Angeles area, were troubled by the mayor’s decision to host a fundraiser that collected money from developers, city contractors and lobbyists, among others.
    “They are giving the money to the charity to please the mayor,” Josephson said. “You ought not be soliciting anything from anybody who wants something from you.”
    Villaraigosa based much of his successful campaign against Mayor James K. Hahn on his pledge to clean up City Hall and ensure that contributions were not influencing city decisions. Federal and county grand juries continue to look into whether city contracts were tied to Hahn’s political fundraising.
    On Tuesday, the City Council adopted four new laws aimed at issues raised by the grand jury probes, including a ban on city commissioners participating in the process of evaluating and recommending city contracts that their commissions will eventually vote on.
    There were complaints that some Hahn commissioners met with bidders for contracts at the same time they were raising money for him, creating an impression that bidders had to “pay to play.”
    The council also banned commissioners Tuesday from earning money to lobby City Hall, and it required paid campaign consultants and fundraisers to register with the city Ethics Commission and take classes on campaign finance rules.
    The council also required lobbyists to file their quarterly activity reports online to make it easier for the public to follow their actions.
    “I believe the reforms passed today will hold political appointees and politicians to the highest ethical standards,” said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who wrote some of the changes.
    Villaraigosa appeared before the council to urge support for the measures, saying he understood that some Angelenos viewed City Hall with suspicion. “I’m committed to making the changes necessary for local government to earn the public’s trust back,” he said.
    Separately, the mayor signed an executive directive Tuesday that requires his staff and his appointees to commissions to attend annual ethics training and sign an ethics pledge. He also ordered commissioners to excuse themselves from voting on matters in which they have a conflict of interest and to notify the Ethics Commission and the mayor’s office of every such recusal.
    The issue came up recently in connection with the president of the Harbor Commission, Nicholas Tonsich, who removed himself from several votes on issues that posed a conflict of interest but failed to notify the Ethics Commission of his recusals.
    Villaraigosa also named Thomas Saenz, a former attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as his top legal advisor and ethics officer. Hahn had an attorney who served as a deputy mayor and advised him but did not carry the same title. Riordan was the last mayor to have his own chief legal counsel.
    “Let’s be clear. Honesty and ethics in City Hall start at the top,” Villaraigosa said in his first news conference at City Hall. “We are the public’s servants. We must set a higher benchmark by our actions to restore the public’s faith and trust in local government. Today, we have begun to do just that.”
    However, Josephson and others raised concerns about the black-tie gala dinner at which dozens of businesses paid up to $100,000 each for their executives to attend the exclusive event with the new mayor at the Music Center. The dinner raised about $2 million for LA’s BEST, a city-funded after-school program that serves 130 elementary schools.
    One of the $100,000 donors was L.A. Arena Co., owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who is also co-owner of Staples Center.
    The company signed an agreement with the city in 2001 to participate in building a $1-billion entertainment and shopping district near the Los Angeles Convention Center. The project will include a 55-story hotel that would receive up to $177 million in city subsidies.
    An affiliated entity, Anschutz Entertainment Group, is hoping to win approval from the mayor and the City Council for the final subsidy agreement in the next three months.
    Josephson said he was troubled that businesses, at the behest of the mayor, were donating to a charity just before the mayor and the council were expected to take action on issues affecting those businesses.
    “Whenever a person in power asks for something from someone they have power over, the person asked does not have complete freedom to say no,” Josephson said. “The concern is, whenever a company pays for anything, there is a reason: Either it is trying to curry favor or avoid punishment.”
    The headquarters of LA’s BEST is in a City Hall suite assigned to the mayor’s office, and the program is largely financed through the city budget by the mayor.
    Villaraigosa bristled when asked at his news conference whether the public should be troubled by the special-interest donations to the gala. “They should never be concerned when people are willing to support children in need and their after-school programs,” he said. “Without that public-private partnership, thousands of kids wouldn’t have an after-school program.”
    But Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino and a Villaraigosa supporter, said the mayor should consider disqualifying himself from acting on issues involving big donors to the city-run charity. “It’s fine to use the bully pulpit to raise money for a charity, as long as he doesn’t weigh in on the decision,” Silver said.
    When asked Tuesday whether L.A. Arena Co.’s donation to his favorite charity would affect his decision on the hotel subsidy, Villaraigosa said, “Absolutely not.”
    Hahn proposed an ethics reform that would have prohibited city contractors and bidders from fundraising for or contributing to charities and campaign funds on behalf of elected officials.
    The practice, Hahn said in a February 2004 letter, “creates the potential perception that fundraising influences the contracting” approval process.
    Villaraigosa has not taken a position on the measure, which remains stalled in the City Council.
    Besides the lucrative hotel subsidy, the mayor’s office could help Anschutz financially in other ways.
    Another Anschutz company owns a pipeline through the city that is required to have a city franchise. In addition, the Department of Water and Power board voted last month to pay $300 million to Anschutz Pinedale Corp. in Denver to buy a portion of the company’s natural gas reserves in Wyoming.
    “We’ve been big supporters of Antonio’s and have had a great relationship for years,” said Michael Roth, an Anschutz spokesman.
    Others currently seeking favorable action from City Hall who bought tables at Villaraigosa’s dinner include developer J.H. Snyder, who is seeking approval of large commercial and residential developments in the San Fernando Valley, and Cerrell Associates, a lobbying firm with clients seeking City Hall approvals.
    Don Schultz, a City Hall watchdog and president of the Van Nuys Homeowners Assn., said the practice sounded to him like “PAY TO PLAY,” even though the money was going to a charity.
    “Any company that spends that kind of money for a city event when it has business pending before the city, you have to wonder if it passes the smell test,” he said.
    L.A. Times
    Ethics in Government

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