Ethics Panel Makes Corruption Probes a Priority
L.A. commission adopts rules to probe possible money laundering and contracting abuses at the DWP and the airport and harbor agencies.
The Los Angeles Ethics Commission directed its
investigators Monday to make it a top priority to determine
whether the city's airports, harbor, and water and power
departments are engaging in corrupt practices.
The decision increases the focus on contracting at the
Two grand juries are looking into whether political
donations influenced the awarding of contracts. And the
city attorney, city controller and county district attorney
are investigating whether Fleishman-Hillard overbilled the
departments for public relations work.
The ethics panel on Monday adopted a list of "investigation
and enforcement priorities" that included looking for
political money laundering, abuse of independent
expenditure campaigns, "pay-to-play" ethics lapses and
"corruption/bribery cases focusing on major proprietary
Commission President Gil Garcetti, the former Los Angeles
County district attorney, said the panel has scarce
investigative resources and should therefore focus them on
major and willful improprieties in the departments that
handle the most money and biggest contracts.
Although the panel is not providing any additional funding
or investigators, Garcetti said, the new priority list
might warrant reassigning staff to look proactively at the
"Let's start looking at some of the contracts. Let's go and
talk to some of the people who made bids and didn't get the
bids," Garcetti said.
"If the proprietary departments know we are going to be
more aggressive, we're not just going to sit and wait for
someone to bring something to us. That's therapeutic
Commissioners have been frustrated that many of the ethics
cases turned up by the panel's investigators in the last
decade have involved minor and inadvertent bookkeeping
errors by campaign finance committees.
"I want to make a distinction between a technical error and
ethical misbehavior," said Commissioner Uri Herscher, in
supporting the priority list.
Federal and county grand juries have subpoenaed contracting
records from the three city departments, and investigators
are looking at potential overbilling on the public
relations contracts Fleishman-Hillard had with the
Ethics Commission investigators have already made some
inquiries to see whether campaign contributions have
affected contracting decisions, sources said, but the
commission's action Monday was aimed at pushing
investigators to redouble their efforts.
"If there is something going on at City Hall involving
proprietary departments, involving a big public relations
firm that seems to have major contracts, we should be in
the middle of that," said Commissioner Bill Boyarsky.
"That's our job."
Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham said she could not discuss
what her investigators were doing, but she said it was
helpful to know what the commission believes is a
The panel also approved a plan Monday to speed up the
completion of audits of campaign committee finances.
In addition, commissioners asked for regular briefings from
Pelham on the examination of the three proprietary
The commission also decided to make investigating abuses in
independent expenditure campaigns a priority because such
campaigns, in which special interests pay for fliers or ads
to benefit a candidate without the candidate's involvement,
are increasing in number and in the amount of money
"That's the 800-pound gorilla," Garcetti said. "If we have
cases involving that, it needs to be the priority."
Also Monday, City Controller Laura Chick urged the panel to
look at banning city commissioners from raising money for
independent expenditure campaigns. City commissioners were
recently prohibited from raising money directly for city
"There is a giant loophole that has been left," Chick said.
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