Williams’ Fund-Raising Is Called Into Question
Deron Williams’ campaign for Los Angeles City Council raised money and conducted other activities using the names of church organizations headed by Williams’ cousin, documents and interviews show.
A former deputy campaign manager said the purpose was to get around limits on political fund-raising.
Mark Matsumura, the former campaign staffer, said that on Williams’ instructions he organized a fund-raising dinner, solicited contributions from individuals and arranged a donation of office space to the campaign, in each case using one of two church groups as cover.
Two Williams supporters confirmed in recent interviews that they were directed to make their checks out not to the campaign, but to Covenant Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization founded by the candidate’s cousin.
The Times obtained copies of 11 checks that donors wrote to “CCDC.” On two of the checks, handwritten notations by the contributors state that the money was intended for Williams’ campaign.
Matsumura, who left the campaign in March, said Williams told him the advantage of using CCDC was that supporters who had contributed $500, the legal maximum, to Williams’ campaign committee could make additional donations to the church group.
Three people who wrote checks to CCDC had previously given $500 to Williams’ campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
Williams declined repeated requests for an interview and referred questions to Roderick Wright, a former assemblyman who ran against him in the March primary and is now working for his campaign.
Wright said it would be inappropriate to comment because Matsumura is “in litigation” with the campaign. He was referring to a Small Claims Court case in which Matsumura is seeking $5,000 in salary he says he was promised but not paid.
Most of the checks made out to CCDC were collected at a Feb. 18 fund-raising dinner hosted by Williams’ cousin, Bishop L. Daniel Williams, pastor at Baptist Church of the New Covenant in Norwalk.
Promotional materials for the dinner made no mention of Deron Williams’ candidacy, instead describing the event as a tribute to prominent African Americans and Korean Americans.
A flier said that “all checks are payable to CCDC” and that donations were tax-deductible. The flier also mentioned a second group led by Bishop Williams -- the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California.
Matsumura said checks totaling $6,700 were collected at the dinner.
Bishop Williams said in an interview that the event was intended “to support Deron Williams” in a general way, without funding campaign activities.
“None of the money was to go directly to Deron’s campaign,” he said. “That’s not legal.”
Asked how the money could be used to support the campaign legally, Bishop Williams cited efforts to register voters and reach out to ethnic constituencies. But he stopped short of saying that donations to CCDC were actually spent on such things.
Asked what became of the contributors’ checks, Bishop Williams said: “I’m not going to tell you.”
Matsumura, who said he left the campaign because of disagreements with the Williamses, said he did not know what happened to the money.
Deron Williams, 35, a longtime aide to departing Councilman Nate Holden, is running for his boss’ 10th District seat. He finished first among five candidates in the March 4 primary and will face Martin Ludlow, a former legislative aide, in a May 20 runoff election.
Matsumura, 42, a Presbyterian minister from Rowland Heights, said he met Deron Williams in 2001 while working on a Los Angeles congressional campaign and was drawn to him, in part because “he always invoked God’s name.” He joined Williams’ council campaign in January, first as a volunteer, then as a paid staffer.
Matsumura said the candidate told him to work with Bishop Williams to raise money independent of the campaign organization. Matsumura said he and the bishop moved into a donated office, set up a phone bank and began planning the Feb. 18 dinner.
Matsumura said Deron Williams told the two that checks collected at the event should be payable to the Baptist Ministers Conference.
Matsumura said Bishop Williams replied that the checks should be made out to the CCDC.
The bishop said that idea originated with Matsumura. “He asked me could we utilize an entity so the money could come in. That’s how the CCDC came up.”
Bishop Williams established the nonprofit CCDC in 1998. Its articles of incorporation say its purpose is to “build bridges between the church community and governmental agencies” and to promote educational, youth and housing programs.
Matsumura said Deron Williams assured him that fund-raising through CCDC was legal.
As the dinner approached, Matsumura reached out to fellow Korean Americans.
Donor in the Dark
Linda Cheon, owner of a Koreatown music school, said she agreed to give $2,000, beginning with a $500 check, because she believed Williams would support improvements to Crenshaw Boulevard that would raise the value of her commercial property.
Matsumura told her to make the check out to the CCDC.
Cheon said she had never heard of the organization. “I don’t know what CCDC is,” she said.
She wrote two additional checks, she said, but blocked payment on them after a friend advised her that it was inappropriate to make campaign contributions in such a manner.
The Feb. 18 dinner was held at the Oxford Palace Hotel in Koreatown. A flier said the event was to honor, among others, former L.A. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, now a city councilman; Noel Hentschel, a businesswoman and former congressional candidate; LAPD Cmdr. Paul Kim; and Deron Williams, who was identified as a council aide but not as a candidate.
Of the named honorees, only Williams and Hentschel attended. Parks and Kim said they did not agree to be honored. Hentschel said she did not know the event was related to the Williams campaign.
Meung Ae Yi did.
The Koreatown restaurant owner went to the dinner at Matsumura’s invitation to help support Williams’ council campaign.
Yi said Matsumura told her to write her $200 check to the CCDC.
“I don’t know what CCDC is short for,” she said in a recent interview. “Maybe he explained what it was for, but I forgot.”
The Times obtained a copy of Yi’s check. Her handwritten notation in the memo line says, in Korean: “City Council campaign contribution.”
Not all the donations collected that night were directed to the church group. Koreatown businessman Jong Min Kang said that when he asked how he should make out his $500 check, a campaign volunteer told him to leave blank the “pay to the order of” line.
Kang said the volunteer handed the check to Deron Williams, who thanked him for the contribution.
When Kang received the canceled check from his bank, he saw that it was made out to Lisa Paillet, a field deputy for Councilman Holden who is on leave to work on Williams’ campaign.
Paillet, asked for comment, said she could not explain how the check came to be made out to her, or why she cashed it. Four days after the interview, she returned the $500 to Kang.
Matsumura said the Baptist Ministers Conference also provided cover for a donation of office space.
He said Deron Williams suggested in January that Matsumura and Bishop Williams find work space outside the campaign headquarters.
Joon Hyung Lee, owner of a shopping center on Washington Boulevard at Crenshaw, donated a vacant 1,000-square-foot basement office, along with the use of eight telephone lines.
Matsumura said Deron Williams and his cousin told him they wanted to obscure the campaign’s use of the site. Matsumura said Bishop Williams proposed that it be called a BMC field office. Matsumura said the bishop preferred that abbreviation to using the full name of the ministers conference.
In an interview, Lee said he understood that the ministers conference would be the only tenant.
But Matsumura said that for nearly two months the office bustled with campaign activity, including a phone survey of registered voters.
Internal campaign records obtained by The Times show that two workers were paid $600 each for the phone work.
The Williams campaign did not list the expenditure in its most recent financial disclosure.
The campaign also did not report the donation of the office space or the phones. Campaign finance laws call for disclosure of such in-kind contributions.
Lee said the office has gone unused since March. A “BMC Field Office” sign still hangs above the door.