D.A. says Alatorre worked as a lobbyist for years without registering

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has decided not to file felony criminal charges against former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, even though investigators found that he worked as a lobbyist for years without identifying himself as one.

Cooley’s Public Integrity Division concluded “without doubt” that Alatorre was an unregistered lobbyist at City Hall from 2003 to 2007 — an activity that qualifies as a misdemeanor violation of the city’s ethics law. But the office also determined that his various efforts to avoid registering with the Ethics Commission did not rise to the level of a felony conspiracy.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who considers Alatorre a political mentor, was one of several politicians interviewed by investigators but said Alatorre never mentioned any clients to him by name.

Prosecutors also found that lobbyist and former state Assemblyman Mike Roos helped Alatorre evade the city’s lobbying requirements by using a loophole in the law to avoid registration. But they said they could not determine that Roos deliberately conspired with Alatorre to violate the law.

Roos retained Alatorre as a subcontractor and took him along on various meetings with council members, city commissioners and city bureaucrats.

“Regardless of whether they labeled it ‘advice,’ ‘strategy’ or ‘consulting,’ all of Alatorre’s clients knew he was acting as a lobbyist and wanted him to ‘lobby’ on their behalf,” prosecutors said in a 13-page report on the investigation issued last week, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

The decision ends a three-year investigation into Alatorre and Roos, veteran lawmakers with lucrative lobbying practices. The two men currently make up the lobbying team for SSP America, a firm that was recommended for the largest of five food and beverage concessions at Los Angeles International Airport.

Alatorre remains a well-known figure around City Hall, more than a decade after he resigned as the representative of a district that stretches from Eagle Rock to Boyle Heights. Those connections ultimately made it difficult to prove how much of those meetings were about clients and how much were about revisiting “the good old days,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Hassett.

“The one thing that comes through loud and clear is that Alatorre is friends with all of these guys, and they all go way back,” Hassett said. Because the violations identified by Cooley are misdemeanors, any further action would be up to the city’s Ethics Commission, which is also reviewing Alatorre’s activities. A spokeswoman for that agency declined to comment. Ethics law violations can be punished by fines or jail time.

Cooley opened his investigation in 2007, following a report in The Times that Alatorre had not registered as a lobbyist even though he had spoken to a dozen city officials on behalf of various companies. A short time later, Alatorre registered as a lobbyist, initially naming just one client.

Alatorre, 67, and Roos, 65, did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The city’s lobbying registration law is designed to help the public identify people who are paid to influence government actions on behalf of special interests.

Investigators said Roos and Alatorre went to “extreme lengths” to avoid registering Alatorre as a lobbyist, identifying him as a consultant. Prosecutors found that between 2003 and 2007, Alatorre — usually accompanied by Roos — met with council members Ed Reyes, Jan Perry, Wendy Greuel, Bernard C. Parks, Herb Wesson and Richard Alarcon on behalf of such companies as Home Depot, Bell Cab and the company behind Las Lomas, a proposed 5,550-home development near Santa Clarita.

ADI, an affordable housing developer, entered into an $8,000-a-month contract with Alatorre. The former councilman insisted that ADI executives refer to him as a consultant and that the contract be oral, not in writing, according to Cooley’s report.

After The Times published its article on Alatorre, the former councilman received a telephone call from Hillary Norton, a Las Lomas employee who had worked as Alatorre’s chief of staff. Norton spoke about the need for him to register as a Las Lomas lobbyist, the report said.

“Alatorre had little response, other than anger and expletives,” Cooley’s report states.

The D.A.'s investigation found that Alatorre met repeatedly with Villaraigosa appointees at Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that operates LAX. Airport commissioner Valeria Velasco, who had worked as an aide to Roos while he was in the state Assembly, told prosecutors that she assumed Alatorre attended the meetings as a paid lobbyist.

Villaraigosa told investigators that he spoke roughly once a month with Alatorre but did not recall any meetings that dealt with “city issues.” The mayor described Alatorre as a friend and a fundraiser for his 2001, 2003 and 2005 election campaigns. “Villaraigosa has never asked Alatorre any questions about his consulting or lobbying activity,” the report states.

Alatorre’s activities occurred during a period of time when the city’s lobbying law was being rewritten. Before Jan. 15, 2007, a lobbyist needed to register with the Ethics Commission if he or she received $4,000 from a client over a three-month period.

After the ballot referendum known as Measure R went into effect, lobbyists were required to register if they worked 30 hours over a three-month period. That threshold made it difficult to determine whether Alatorre needed to register as a lobbyist between Jan 15, 2007, and Oct. 1, 2007, prosecutors wrote.

“How do you accurately demonstrate how long a phone call took, and what portion of that phone call constitutes lobbying? Is it some of it? Is it all of it? That’s a really difficult thing to address,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder.

The Ethics Commission recommended last year that the City Council eliminate the 30-hour requirement. The council has yet to act on that proposal.