“The District Attorney has been relentless in his pursuit of public
corruption and of lawbreakers within the justice system. He created
the Public Integrity Division that has prosecuted politicians whose
misconduct had gone unpunished for years.” — From District Attorney Steve Cooley’s official website.
Throughout his three terms as LA County District Attorney, Steve Cooley has made a lot of noise about his efforts to investigate public corruption but his actual achievements are barely audible — mostly a few small-town crooked politicians.
The one big case he tried to bring involved a joint DA-federal probe of so-called “pay-to-play” corruption in Mayor James Hahn’s administration wound up netting three public relations guys with Fleishman-Hillard for fudging billing records for a DWP contract. And they were prosecuted in federal court on charges of wire fraud with two facing jail — Doug Dowie and John Stodder — still out on appeals five years later. None of them got freebies or profits from what they did wrong.
Now Cooley is the law-and-order Republican candidate for California Attorney General running against Democrat Kamala Harris, the San Francisco District Attorney.
For Cooley to deserve to win, he needs to back up his overblown talk about being tough on public corruption, he needs to impanel a grand jury and fully investigate Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s flagrant disregard for ethics and the rule of law.
The focus in the media so far is on the tickets worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars that Villaraigosa took from benefactors to attend 81 sports and entertainment events, including $3,100 courtside seats at Laker games and premium seats at the Academy Awards.
Little has been said about the fortune in meals at Mozza, Drago and other high-priced restaurants the mayor has taken as gifts or his taste for fine wines costing $500 to $1,000 that his “friends” have bought for him.
It all adds up to a massive violation of city and state ethics laws that limit gifts from any donor in a year to $420 and require all gifts be reported. These gifts are also taxable by the state and federal governments.
Even more serious then the gift taking is the how the mayor has bestowed valuable favors in public policy and subsidies to campaign contributors and almost certainly to those who provided him with valuable gifts and freebies.
This isn’t pay-to-play the way the mayor works it. It’s “play, then pay” — first the favors are given, then the payback comes from contributors. But it amounts to the same thing and the criminality will come up if enough people are hauled before a grand jury and enough emails and deals are examined by prosecutors.
Villaraigosa got elected mayor five years ago making a big deal about how was a family man unlike Hahn whose marriage had broken up and how the Hahn Administration was the most investigated since the notorious Frank Shaw Administration in the 1930s.
Today, Villaraigosa prefers TV news reporters in his bedroom rather than his estranged wife and oversees the most corrupt administration since Frank Shaw.
It’s time to investigate and clean up City Hall and that’s Steve Cooley’s job. It’s time he stopped looking the other way and hiding out from his responsibilities. It’s time he lived up to his promises and overcame his image as an all talk, no action DA.
The mayor’s feeble defense for his acceptance of valuable gifts is that everything he does is in his official capacity as mayor. Hogwash!
Shockingly, his lawyer Brian Currey now claims the mayor has kept no records of the tickets he accepted as gifts, no records of who gave them or what events he actually attended. Currey does know he paid for tickets once in five years, to a U2 concert in October in Pasadena.
“We don’t have a documentary record
of who provided the tickets, how much they are worth or how many there
were. There were no logs kept,” Currey told Phil Willon in the LA Times.. “There’s just not much
That there are no records for these gifts is unthinkable for a politician who was Speaker of the Assembly, Councilman and Mayor over the last 15 years. “I’m almost speechless,” remarked Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.
For all his lack of character, the mayor has no shortage of chutzpah. He’s “asked” the city Ethics Commission to investigate.
First of all, the mayor and other city elected officials who are all operating inside the rampant corruption of City Hall appoint the five commissioners. Secondly, the commission has a long record of docile treatment of abuses by public officials. Thirdly, city ethics laws are weak and this isn’t a case of a violation or two but rampant abuses.
It’s a criminal, not civil, matter.
So it’s up to Steve Cooley. Rock the boat, Steve, or watch your campaign for Attorney General sink in the passivity to being a bystander to public corruption.