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Car dealer fined $22,500 over his handling of L.A. campaign signs

Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeReligion and BeliefEthicsEd Reyes

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission on Thursday imposed a $22,500 fine on a Los Angeles car dealer who failed to disclose that he had paid for two large signs backing former City Atty. Carmen Trutanich during last year's election campaign.

Businessman Onnik Mehrabian admitted he did not follow city laws requiring that he inform city officials of his pro-Trutanich "independent expenditures" -- contributions made without the involvement of the candidate, according to a report on the case.

Mehrabian, chief executive of Glendale Kia, failed to say on the pro-Trutanich signs that he was the one paying for them, as required by law. The businessman also did not inform the ethics commission at any point during the campaign that he had financed the signs, even after investigators contacted him.

"Ultimately he did file a ... report with the ethics commission," said Neama Rahmani, the commission's director of enforcement. "But by that time, the election was over and the signs were down."

Michael Gonzalez, Mehrabian's attorney, said his client has no comment.

Those who give independent expenditures do not have to abide by the city's campaign contribution limits. However, the commission considers disclosure of those expenditures to be crucial, because it enables the public know who is trying to influence the outcome of a city election.

Enforcement officials said they recommended a $22,500 penalty because Mehrabian did not cooperate with the investigation in a "timely" way. The penalty was 75% of the maximum that Mehrabian faced. Trutanich lost his bid for reelection last year.

Also last year, Mehrabian gave $15,000 to a campaign committee supporting Jose Gardea, who ran unsuccessfully for the Eastside seat vacated by City Councilman Ed Reyes. The council voted last year to sell Mehrabian a piece of city-owned land next to his dealership on San Fernando Road.

Ethics investigators said they opened the Mehrabian case after The Times wrote about one of Mehrabian's pro-Trutanich signs, which was hung on a wall facing drivers on the 5 Freeway.

During Thursday's commission meeting, the five-member panel also issued a $45,000 penalty to Juan Carlos Jaramillo, who was found to have engaged in campaign money laundering during the 2011 election campaign. Commissioner Erin Pak cast the only opposing vote, saying she was troubled that the fine was not larger.

Under the city's laws, Jaramillo could have faced a $90,000 fine. Commission investigators said they cut the amount in half because Jaramillo cooperated fully with their inquiry.

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Twitter: @davidzahniser

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