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Ethics Panel Approves Fines Against Donors

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission approved $189,700 in fines for campaign-law violations on Tuesday, with many levied against associates and companies tied to developer Mark Alan Abrams for laundering political contributions.

Some two dozen individuals and businesses with links to Abrams agreed to pay $87,500 in fines for hiding the true source of contributions to the campaigns of Mayor James K. Hahn, Councilman Tony Cardenas and former Councilman Nick Pacheco.

Four of those who agreed to pay fines said Abrams, a Westside developer who is under investigation for alleged fraud, reimbursed them for their political donations.

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In a second case, a company founded by developer Alan Casden, a vice president of that company, three subcontractors and 14 associates of the subcontractors agreed to pay $89,500 in fines. Casden Properties Inc. and Vice President John Archibald admitted that Archibald helped one of the subcontractors launder contributions. The subcontractors admitted reimbursing employees and associates for contributions made to former state Controller Kathleen Connell’s 2001 mayoral campaign and Jack Weiss’ council campaign.

The Ethics Commission approved the fines despite concern from Commission President Gil Garcetti and other members that some of the fines were not enough to penalize conduct that sought to hide the true source of campaign contributions. Some of the employees of subcontractors were fined $1,000 each.

“These are big cases, and yet we are fining them $1,000,” Garcetti said. “I’m not sure $1,000 sends the sufficient deterrent message that a higher fine would send.”

Ron Turovsky, an attorney for Casden Properties, called the penalties appropriate. Although the firm stipulated that Archibald helped launder money, Turovsky said the evidence is not clear that a violation occurred. “By increasing the fine you will not be recognizing that there has been cooperation,” he said.

Alan Casden was not charged and denies any wrongdoing. He sold Casden Properties and its assets two years ago to Apartment Investment and Management Co. in a deal that allowed Casden to acquire stock in that firm.

In the case involving Abrams’ business associates, the Ethics Commission concluded that most of the contributions to Hahn and others came from Abrams or investment firms involved with his Beverly Hills-based real estate group.

Abrams and business partner Charles Elliott Fitzgerald, who are central figures in a federal investigation of alleged mortgage fraud, funneled more than $300,000 in contributions to Hahn’s political causes.

Business associates of Abrams and their relatives stipulated in agreements that they were conduits for laundered contributions.

Ethics Commissioner Bill Boyarsky, a former city editor at The Times, said he would have preferred the case to have an administrative hearing to shed more light on how Abrams got things done at City Hall. He cited reports in The Times that Hahn’s office assisted Abrams in getting high-level City Hall access to help advance a stalled development project.

Garcetti noted the public could still get more insight into Abrams’ operations because the Ethics Commission will have a hearing on his role.

Abrams has refused to stipulate to wrongdoing, and the commission’s executive director has issued an accusation that alleges Abrams orchestrated about $90,000 in illegal contributions.

“There still is a big case that is outstanding,” Garcetti said.


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