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California

The Luxe hotel was a hot spot for fundraisers. But some L.A. politicians didn’t pay the bill

LOS ANGELES, CA-MARCH 14, 2019: People walk by The Luxe City Center Hotel which has been a favorite
The Luxe City Center Hotel has been a favorite spot for L.A. politicians to hold fundraisers, but some politicians went months or even years without paying the hotel venue. FBI agents have sought records involving the hotel, according to a search warrant filed last year.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Donors descended on the Luxe City Center Hotel last April for a fundraiser supporting two L.A. politicians: City Council President Herb Wesson and a colleague from the San Fernando Valley, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez.

Wesson, a political veteran, and Rodriguez, the council’s newest member, took in tens of thousands of dollars that day for their officeholder committees. Yet for nearly a year, neither compensated the hotel, which provided food and an outdoor patio with a glittering downtown backdrop.

Rodriguez and Wesson paid the $3,026 bill only two weeks ago, after The Times inquired about the lack of payment. A Wesson representative said they had not previously received an invoice.

They’re not the only politicians to go months, or even years, without paying the hotel. A Times review of campaign records found no evidence of payment by at least seven politicians involved in three separate fundraisers at the Luxe, whose owners spent several years seeking city permission to redevelop their property.

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Politicians and their fundraising committees are required by law to report their spending and can face financial penalties if they fail to do so. After The Times inquired about the lack of payment, participants in those events said they were paying the bill or planned to do so.

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), who staged a re-election fundraiser at the Luxe in 2017, said through a spokesman that she requested the invoice and paid the $534 bill “immediately” after receiving questions from The Times. Like Rodriguez and Wesson, she said she did not receive a bill.

The Times also found no payment records for four L.A. council members who staged a joint fundraiser at the Luxe in 2015. That event, which was hosted by Wesson, went to support the re-election campaigns of Councilmen Mike Bonin, Gil Cedillo, Mitch O’Farrell and Curren Price.

The four council members “always intended to pay their share of event costs and fully expected to receive an invoice from the hotel, which nobody received,” said Stephen Kaufman, a campaign attorney representing Wesson, Bonin and Price.

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Had the Luxe intended to contribute food or other services, the politicians who received them would generally have been required to report them as campaign donations.

With its second-floor patio overlooking the L.A. Live entertainment complex, the Luxe has been a favored spot for local politicians to stage fundraisers. But the hotel has also drawn the attention of FBI agents, who have sought records about the Luxe while investigating possible corruption at City Hall.

In a search warrant filed last year, investigators sought evidence of bribery, extortion and other possible crimes involving at least two businessmen connected to the hotel’s redevelopment project.

The warrant also named several officials at City Hall, including council members Jose Huizar and Curren Price and staffers to Huizar and Wesson, as well as other business executives.

Separately, real estate developers have received subpoenas from a federal grand jury seeking records on any free meals, trips and other gifts given to council members.

No one has been arrested or publicly charged in the investigation and the warrant did not say that agents had gathered evidence of criminal activity by the individuals and companies named. The warrant did not indicate that investigators are looking at fundraisers held at the Luxe.

Neither the FBI nor a lawyer for the hotel’s owner would comment.

2464718_ME_0519_Wesson_Racist_Speaker_Card_IK
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson held a fundraiser at the Luxe City Center Hotel in April but did not pay until after The Times inquired about the lack of payment records. A representative for the council president said his committee never received an invoice.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Sources close to two council members said federal investigators have not asked them about fundraisers at the hotel. In addition, a lawyer representing Wesson said he would not discuss whether the FBI probe is examining fundraisers at the Luxe “out of respect for the important work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has confirmed that Council President Wesson is only a witness in its investigation,” Aaron Lewis, the attorney for Wesson, added in an email.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles declined to comment on Lewis’s statement.

Wesson and his colleagues have voted repeatedly on issues involving the Luxe in recent years. Hotel owner Jia Yuan USA Co. filed an application with the city in 2015 to demolish the nine-story Luxe and replace it with much taller towers — the same year that Wesson hosted the event for Bonin, Cedillo, O’Farrell and Price at the downtown hotel.

After the developers informed the city they needed financial help, the council voted in 2016 to hire consultants to determine whether the project warranted taxpayer support. That analysis has not occurred since the developers have not yet provided the funding to pay for the study, said Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso.

The council continued to cast votes on the project in 2017 and 2018, allowing the developer to build a 300-room hotel and a 435-unit residential tower. As part of that project, the developer agreed to contribute to several downtown initiatives backed by Huizar, including $550,000 for the revitalization of the Broadway corridor and $750,000 for a planned streetcar.

LOS ANGELES, CA-MARCH 14, 2019: People walk by The Luxe City Center Hotel which has been a favorite
L.A. politicians frequently used the 2nd floor patio of the Luxe as a venue for fundraisers.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

During that period, several other politicians also held events at the Luxe, filing reports showing that they had paid.

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Councilwoman Nury Martinez held a fundraiser in October 2015 for her officeholder account, which can be used to pay for meals and other travel, paying Jia Yuan $700. In March 2016, Wesson hosted a fundraiser for Councilman Mitchell Englander, then running for county supervisor. Englander paid the hotel $1,504, according to his spending report.

Three months later, Wesson put together an event for three other council members — Bob Blumenfield, Joe Buscaino and Paul Koretz — who were seeking re-election. The three councilmen paid a combined $11,100 for the event.

And Price held a birthday fundraiser for his officeholder account at the Luxe in December 2017. His spokeswoman said Price did not receive an invoice until “well after” the event and paid the hotel $4,300 the following October.

Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) held a fundraiser in October and also did not disclose payment. After The Times inquired, she said her treasurer had failed to report a $2,516 payment made in October. She filed a new report listing the Luxe expenditure earlier this month.

The invitation for another Luxe event, the one held by Congresswoman Chu, asked donors to RSVP to George Chiang, who worked as a consultant for the Luxe’s owner as it sought permission to redevelop the property. Chiang was one of more than a dozen people named in the FBI warrant.

Steve Barkan, a political consultant for Chu, said he did not know of any business that Chiang had before the congresswoman or the federal government. He described Chiang as a constituent who did not have any role in Chu’s campaign.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlpertReyes


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