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Opponents of Beverly Hilton project allege voter fraud

Beverly Hills developement
Ongoing construction in Beverly Hills. Plans to erect the city’s tallest building ever have pitted two deep-pocketed developers against each other.
(Ricardo Dearatanha / Los Angeles Times)

Opponents of the Beverly Hilton’s bid to erect the tallest building in Beverly Hills have asked Los Angeles County prosecutors and elections officials to investigate allegations of voter registration fraud.

The allegations, including that more than 300 Beverly Hills voters are registered illegally to post office boxes rather than their home addresses, were made by a lawyer for Beverly Hills Residents and Businesses to Preserve Our City, a committee sponsored by a competing developer, Chinese entertainment and real estate giant Wanda Group. 

The complaints are the latest volley in a multimillion-dollar public relations battle over the Hilton’s plans to build a 26-story, 375-foot-tall condominium tower adjacent to the landmark hotel at Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. 

The $700-million project would in effect stack two previously approved condominium towers of eight and 18 stories each, while adding a Waldorf Astoria hotel and expanding a green space from 1.25 acres to 1.7 acres.

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Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to approve the project in its current form. If not, its developers, real estate investor Beny Alagem and his Oasis West Realty, may proceed with the previous plans for two smaller condo towers.

The ballot initiative, Measure HH, would allow Alagem to skirt the usual public review process by taking approval directly to voters instead of city planners and elected officials.

Among his staunchest opponents are Wanda Group and its development partner, Athens Group, which are building a $1.2-billion hotel-condominium project called One Beverly Hills, just across Merv Griffin Way from Alagem’s property.

The Hilton project and the ballot initiative have sparked a political uproar in the wealthy enclave, along with dueling allegations by the developers and their supporters.

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This month, the state Fair Political Practices Commission rejected a local labor union’s complaint that Wanda Group was funneling foreign cash to the campaign committee opposing the Hilton project.

A lawyer for that committee is now asking elections officials to disqualify any ineligible voters.

“If left unresolved, these irregularities could threaten the integrity of the upcoming Beverly Hills election,” attorney Jonathan Mintzer wrote in one of two letters to the county registrar-recorder/county clerk’s office.

Mintzer’s letters singled out several people, who are supporters or related to supporters of the project, as among those who might be registered illegally. 

Marie Garvey, a spokeswoman for the Hilton project, said the complaint “smacks of desperation.” 

“When they feel like they’re going to lose, they accuse us of voter fraud and try to intimidate voters before the election has even taken place,” she said. “This is completely without merit and, quite frankly, ridiculous.”

District attorney’s spokesman Greg Risling confirmed Tuesday that his office had received a copy of the committee’s complaint, but said it will defer to the registrar’s office, “which is tasked with determining voter eligibility.” 

The voter fraud allegations mirror those made after Beverly Hills voters passed a 2008 referendum on the Hilton project. The district attorney reviewed those allegations but filed no charges, Risling said.

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“The review didn’t produce sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation and the matters were closed,” he said.

An elections official who was sent the complaint did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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