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L.A. city employee is fined more than $16,000 for dodging parking fees

L.A. city employee is fined more than $16,000 for dodging parking fees
Pershing Square at 6th and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles city employee who misused his position to get free parking at a downtown lot for years is being slapped with a fine of more than $16,000.

The Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to impose the fine on Jose Flores, a parking manager who had improperly kept three vehicles at the city-operated Pershing Square garage without paying.

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Under city rules, Flores was allowed to keep his personal vehicle at the lot while he was working, but he parked his cars there overnight and on weekends, using his employee keycard to override the payment system.

Flores stopped doing so after KCBS-TV reported last year that he was keeping his cars there for free, depriving the city of revenue.

City investigators found that over the course of roughly three years, Flores had evaded more than $10,000 in fees that a regular customer would otherwise have paid to park at Pershing Square, where fees range from $190 to $250 per month.

Flores admitted to the violations in an agreement with the Ethics Commission. He could have been fined as much as $33,410, but commission staff recommended a reduced penalty of $16,705 — half the maximum — because he cooperated with the investigation and had no previous violations.

At Tuesday’s meeting, some commissioners questioned whether the fine was excessive.

Commission President Serena Oberstein initially floated the idea of cutting the fine to roughly $8,350, or a quarter of the maximum, after raising concerns that Flores had not been represented by an attorney and questioning how much he knew about the law compared with political “players” whose cases come before the commission.

“He clearly was taking money out of the pocket of the city,” Oberstein said. “But it’s one of the least egregious things that I’ve seen” on the commission.

Kirsten Pickenpaugh, acting director of enforcement for the commission, replied that Flores knew about the department policy that limited when and how he could park a vehicle in the facility, and had also taken online training courses in city ethics rules in recent years.

In addition, Pickenpaugh said that Flores had admitted he might have improperly parked vehicles at Pershing Square for as long as nine years, but the proposed penalty only covered losses to the city that fell during a four-year statute of limitations.

Pickenpaugh also mentioned his “six-figure” salary in reaction to a question from Oberstein: Flores currently earns more than $102,000 annually, according to the personnel department. Those answers reassured Oberstein and several other commissioners that the fine was reasonable.

“Every day he had to have known those cars should not have been there,” Commissioner Andrea Sheridan Ordin said, although she added that she found it to be “a very sad case.”

The sole commissioner to vote against the fine was Araceli Campos, who said she was concerned about the precedent being set by the amount, compared with how the city had penalized repeat offenders with different violations. Campos argued that the commission could use its discretion to impose a lower fine.

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