The City Ethics Commission is investigating, the DA is inquiring, the wagons are circling Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Ticket-Wine-Dinner-Gate Scandal.
If he were the mayor of Southgate or Pico-Rivera, they’d be cleaning out a cell for him but he’s the mayor of the nation’s second largest city. So he’s big-time which history suggests makes him all but untouchable.
We know from history that the Ethics Commission, appointed by our elected officials, has no stomach to enforce the law against the people who put them into their posts.
We know from history that DA Steve Cooley has yet to live up to his promise to get tough on public corruption unless it involves some small town officials.
But let’s take a cue from mayor-in-waiting Austin Beutner and ignore the past and focus on moving forward.
The central question then is whether the mayor of LA is acting in his offiicial capacity when he staggers on stage to hand a certificate to a Latino singer or sits courtside with a Hollywood mogul or pays for a costly meal in a luxury restaurant with a credit card in someone else’s name?
That is the only defense so far offered by the mayor: Like royalty, everything he does is official and ceremonial and thus the hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts he’s taken are exempt from city and state ethics laws and state and federal income tax laws.
If the Ethics Commission and DA accept his logic, then the rule of law with regards to public officials is null and void. Public corruption laws in California are so pathetic that a former Attorney General told me a long time ago the only way an official could be convicted is if he stated publicly or was secretly recorded admitting he exchanged favors for gifts.
In Antonio’s case, all we know is that a lot of the gift-givers got a lot of favors but under the laws written by our elected officials that is legally just a coincidence without a confession.
All we know at this point is Cooley intends to wait for the ethics investigation to be complete which could take years based on past performance.
“Obviously, the issue is whether the mayor received gifts which he
failed to report,” said David Demerjian, head of the DA’s Public Integrity Division. “You can’t label something an investigation until we’ve determined that
an actual crime has occurred. And at this point, I
cannot say whether or not a crime has occurred.”
Hopefully, Demerjian is just being discrete and respectful of the rights of a criminal suspect or maybe he’s looking over his shoulder at his boss who is running for Attorney General.
Let’s assume, the mayor’s gift-taking is found to be a crime, that it went unreported in violation of the law and he faces huge tax bills, fines and reimbursements costs.
If even a fraction of those things come true, you can be sure he will set up an Antonio Villaraigosa Legal Defense Fund and call on all the same people to pay his lawyers.
But in a moment of hubris, he promised to pay for the gifts if he is found to have violated the law.
“If the commission, after reviewing those documents, determines that there are any that are not sustainable then I will certainly reimburse,” he said, before heading off to a Lakers-Celtics Championship game on another freebie which he took on the pretext he was going — officially — with NBA Commissioner David Stern about next year’s All-Star game in LA.
That’s the least the mayor could do (and he never does more than the least) — but if he means all the gifts he’s taken and all the penalties imposed, then we will see at least a small measure of justice.
Antonio condemned Jimmy Hahn as the most investigated mayoral administration since the 1930s and promised clean government and an end to “pay-to-play.”
There’s still three years left of the Villaraigosa Administration so it’s an open question of whether he beats Hahn for being the most investigated. But he has succeeded in replacing “pay-to-play” with “play, then pay” — the money (and gifts) come in first, then the favors are delivered.
The sweet irony of what’s going on is that if the mayor does have to personally pay the enormous bill for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts he’s taken, he’ll at least be as bankrupt as the city he has ruined.