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California

Developer whose wife sat on Ethics Commission faces $15,000 fine over political donations

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Chris Pak, right, talks with Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson before a groundbreaking ceremony in 2006.
(Anne Cusak/Los Angeles Times)

Six years ago, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson drew criticism for putting the wife of a campaign fundraiser on the Ethics Commission, a city panel that votes on fines for people who violate political contribution rules.

Wesson had selected nonprofit executive Erin Pak, who was also the wife of architect and real estate developer Chris Pak, host of fundraising events for Mayor Eric Garcetti and other local politicians.

“Let’s hope he’s compliant with everything so he doesn’t have to come to the Ethics Commission,” she told The Times before she was seated.

Erin Pak left the commission three years ago. Now Chris Pak is facing $15,000 in proposed fines from the commission for giving contributions that exceeded the city limit. All but one of the violations took place during the period when Erin Pak was on the commission, according to city records.

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In their report on the violations, Ethics Commission staffers said Chris Pak was aware of the restrictions and did not consult officials at the agency about how to follow the law.

Chris Pak donated personally to four elected officials — Garcetti, City Controller Ron Galperin, and Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Bob Blumenfield — and also sent donations to the same people from companies he fully or partially owned, according to a report prepared for the Ethics Commission.

Los Angeles city rules cap the amount that each donor can give to a politician’s campaign fund or officeholder account. If a contributor gives money through a company that he or she controls, those donations count toward the legal limit.

Pak exceeded the limits by $4,000, making donations as himself, through his architecture and development firm Archeon, and through Datum Development Group LLC, a company in which he holds a 50 percent ownership interest, according to the commission report.

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The Paks did not respond to requests for comment. Before she was seated on the commission, Erin Pak told The Times that Archeon would not make donations while she sat on the panel. Archeon gave more than $18,000 to city candidates during her term, according to contribution records.

The Ethics Commission is slated to vote on the proposed penalty on Tuesday. Chris Pak, whose firm has worked on towering real estate projects in Koreatown, has already signed a document admitting to the violations.

Pak faced a maximum fine of $20,000. Ethics Commission staffers recommended a reduced penalty of $15,000 because he had cooperated with the investigation and they had found “no evidence of an intent to conceal or deceive,” they wrote.

However, they also noted that the violations were serious and that Archeon had gotten in trouble before for the same violation. In 2006, the agency found that two of Pak’s companies gave the maximum donations to the same candidates, exceeding city limits. No fine was imposed because the violation was deemed an “infraction” under commission policy at that time.

Business entities have repeatedly been used by L.A. donors to circumvent the city limits on political contributions.

Last year, real estate investor Leeor Maciborski was hit with a $17,000 fine after writing checks through more than a dozen companies to help elect Councilman Mitch O’Farrell. The Times had previously highlighted those donations as an example of how hard it is for the public to tell who is behind political contributions from business entities.

Some cities sharply restrict donations from businesses and other organizational entities: San Diego, for instance, only allows candidates to take money from individuals and political parties. Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu floated a similar proposal three years ago but failed to get support.

Three of the politicians who received the excess money from Pak and his companies — Garcetti, Galperin and Blumenfield — have either given it back or said they intend to do so. Yusef Robb, a political advisor to the mayor, said Garcetti’s campaign had not known of the ties between Pak and Datum.

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“We do everything we can to make sure others are following the rules. Sometimes people don’t,” Robb said.

A Cedillo spokesman referred questions to a treasurer who did not respond to an inquiry from The Times.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlpertReyes

david.zahniser@latimes.com


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