Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams has reimbursed a London company nearly $11,000 for a pair of first-class airplane tickets that he accepted 15 months ago to attend a conference in Europe, officials said Tuesday.
Williams’ acceptance of the tickets--used by him and his wife--had sparked questions about whether he violated state ethics rules and prompted an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Williams’ attorney, Johnny Darnell Griggs, said Tuesday that his client did nothing improper and characterized the incident as a misunderstanding that has been rectified.
Griggs said he expects the Fair Political Practices Commission to issue a ruling by the end of the week that will “exonerate the chief” and conclude the agency’s investigation of the matter.
Gary Huckaby, a spokesman for the state commission, declined to comment, saying that the agency’s review was not yet completed.
According to sources, state authorities were trying to determine whether Williams violated ethics rules that prohibit elected or appointed officials from receiving gifts exceeding $280 in a year from an individual.
Before accepting the tickets, Williams sought an opinion from the city’s Ethics Commission and was told that the gift limit did not apply if the travel expenses were being paid by a governmental or a nonprofit agency.
Griggs said Williams was told by the organizers of the conference that air fare was being paid by the British Broadcasting Corp., which is a government agency, and therefore the chief thought he could accept the airline tickets.
However, NewsWorld, not the BBC, paid for the tickets. The London-based firm had invited Williams to attend a news media conference in Berlin in November 1995. While in Europe, Williams and his wife, Evelina, had planned to vacation for a few days at their own expense.
On the fourth day of their 13-day trip, Williams and his wife flew home from London after receiving word that a Los Angeles officer had been killed in a car crash. After attending the officer’s funeral, Williams flew back to Europe at his own expense to attend the conference.
Early Tuesday, Williams declined to comment in detail on the reimbursement issue, saying only that he had been “110% cleared of any inappropriate behavior.” Later, in a prepared statement, he reiterated that he had been vindicated and called the incident an “unfortunate misunderstanding.”
One police commissioner, however, said he was troubled by the way that Williams had initially handled the matter, calling it a “serious issue.”
Commissioner Herbert F. Boeckmann said Williams was not candid about the issue when he was publicly questioned about the tickets after returning from Europe. Boeckmann said Williams went on television and stated that he had paid for his wife’s ticket and was going to pay for his own to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing.
In that interview, which aired Nov. 16, 1995, on Fox 11 News, Williams said: “I picked up my wife’s air fare, I picked up all other expenses as a matter of fact. . . . I paid for my wife’s air fare. . . . I said, you know, it would be inappropriate, so I paid for her ticket.”
In the statement he released late Tuesday, Williams said he did not recall making that statement, but if he did, “then I made that statement in error.”
“He said he paid for his wife’s ticket and it turned out he did not. He said he would pay for his ticket and he did not,” Boeckmann said.
Boeckmann said he had repeatedly asked the chief over the past year when he was going to pay for his ticket as he had promised to do.
“When I asked him about it he said, ‘I shouldn’t have said it,’ and my remark was: ‘Having said it, you should have done it.’ But that didn’t seem to motivate him,” Boeckmann said. “So at least I’m pleased he’s finally done it.”
Griggs said that Williams did not pay for the tickets immediately because he found out how expensive they were and decided to refer the matter to his attorneys for a ruling on whether it was necessary.
“He had no idea it would be in excess of $10,000,” Griggs said.