Official’s Role in Bids Subject of Investigation
Los Angeles County’s point man for real estate development is the target of a public corruption probe for allegedly giving a Westside developer the inside track on contracts to build three large office buildings and lease them to the county.
Investigators with the district attorney’s public integrity division served search warrants this month at eight locations, including the office and home of Charles West, director for real estate for the county’s chief administrative office. The probe was disclosed by the Daily Breeze newspaper in Torrance.
Warrants obtained by The Times show investigators were seeking evidence, including proposals, bids, contracts, correspondence or computer files, connecting West, also known as Charles Mazouch, with the West Los Angeles development firm Sonnenblick-Del Rio. Among the evidence sought was documentation of a ski trip to Breckenridge, Colo., as well as “vacations to the Caribbean, Europe or any other destinations” taken by West, his wife, and the development firm’s partners, Robert Sonnenblick and Nelson Del Rio, and their wives.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to comment on the specifics of the case. But in a lawsuit in March, a former Sonnenblick-Del Rio contractor alleged that the firm secured bids by paying for inside information.
Although the case does not mention West by name, the lawsuit by Barnett Davis II alleges the developers “used and abused their relationship” with the county.
The suit alleges the firm solicited and paid for inside information that gave them an “unfair advantage” and made them “millions of dollars in profits” on contracts.
County Administrative Officer David Janssen said Wednesday he knew little about the investigation other than what he learned from the search warrant affidavits and a brief conversation with the district attorney’s office.
“The fact that the district attorney is issuing warrants is very concerning,” Janssen said. “Chuck is on administrative leave. I hope and pray everything turns out OK and that the district attorney can conclude the investigation, one way or another, as soon as possible.”
West, a lawyer, could not be reached for comment. Officials at Sonnenblick-Del Rio Development Inc. didn’t immediately respond to e-mails and calls seeking comment. According to its website, the firm specializes in developing office facilities for state, county and municipal public agencies throughout the nation. The developer also builds retail, residential and hotel resort projects, according to its website.
Sonnenblick-Del Rio built two multi-story office buildings for the county in El Monte and a third in West Los Angeles. County officials said that the firm also bid on a project in Panorama City that has not yet been approved by the Board of Supervisors.
From 1998 to 2001, the buildings were leased to the county under 30-year contracts with options to buy, county officials said. Under the deals, the firm located the land and put together the team -- including the architect, engineer and general contractor -- to construct the buildings. The money borrowed to finance the bonds for the projects is tax-exempt.
The Board of Supervisors spends more than $9 million in annual lease payments to Sonnenblick-Del Rio, including $2.8 million for one El Monte facility and $3.2 million for the other, and $3.1 million for the West Los Angeles building.