Ethics Commission hits former candidate, treasurer with $43,000 fine

Former L.A. City Council candidate and his treasurer dealt a nearly $43,000 fine by the Ethics Commission

A longtime restaurateur who made an unsuccessful bid for a spot on the Los Angeles City Council and his campaign treasurer were dealt a nearly $43,000 fine by the Ethics Commission on Tuesday for failing to keep accurate records and faking documents that were supposed to back up their spending, along with other campaign violations.

Navraj Singh campaigned in 2011 to represent the northwest stretches of the San Fernando Valley, vying for the seat that was ultimately won by Mitch Englander. His campaign committee raised more than $96,000, including $47,300 in public matching funds.

A routine audit and later investigation found that his campaign lacked records that would enable the city to determine whether some of the spending was proper.

When Ethics Commission auditors asked for more documents to examine the spending, Singh and his treasurer, Timothy Davis, came up with some invoices that “appeared to be inauthentic,” according to a report by Ethics Commission staff.

“Singh and Davis provided inauthentic documents rather than admitting to the Ethics Commission that they failed to maintain the documentation necessary to support six campaign expenditures totaling $9,755.12,” the report stated.

Some of the fake documents were largely accurate, but others listed the wrong company or person who received the money.

In one case, one of the invoices listed the name of a company that didn’t provide services to the campaign, the Ethics Commission found. The invoice said $5,000 was sent to Print Plus for printing services, but investigators found the money actually went to Paint Plus — a business that Davis owned  — for office space.

Singh, Davis and the campaign committee also failed to provide copies of some of their campaign communications, including postcards, yard signs and recyclable bags, to the Ethics Commission as required.

And on some of his political yard signs, Singh and his campaign committee neglected to include legally required wording about who paid for them. They are supposed to state “Paid for by” and include the name and address of the candidate or committee.

Singh did not respond to phone calls from The Times on Monday and Tuesday seeking comment. The maximum fine for the violations reached nearly $86,000, but Ethics Commission staff recommended that Singh, Davis and the committee pay nearly $43,000 — half of the possible penalty.

City staffers did not find any evidence that Singh and Davis were trying to conceal illegal activity by faking the invoices, but said they had failed to resolve the matter years earlier, forcing investigators to spend extensive time trying to cobble together what was spent.

Some of the commissioners questioned whether the fine was too heavy for two political players who appeared to be "unsophisticated" and may have made accidental mistakes. Davis, for instance, is not a professional treasurer, according to Ethics Commission staff.

"This is a lot of money for ordinary citizens," said commissioner Erin Pak, adding that if the Ethics Commission wants ordinary people to participate in the political process, "I don't know if we're sending the right message by fining all this ... I'm torn."

But Ethics Commission director of enforcement Sergio Perez told the commissioners that Singh had run for elected office before and "this is not his first rodeo."

"He is a sophisticated individual — even if he did not run a sophisticated campaign," said Perez. "He knows how to keep the books on his businesses. And he didn't do so on his campaign."

Singh, Davis and their committee agreed to the fine ahead of the Tuesday meeting, but will pay it bit by bit under a payment plan over the next year. An initial payment of roughly $10,700 is required up front, according to the agreement approved Tuesday.

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