WeHo aide suspended in office bugging case says he’s ‘whistle-blower’
In the latest sign that it might be time to give West Hollywood its own reality TV show, a City Council aide who was suspended for allegedly bugging his colleague’s office said he is actually a “whistle-blower” and is being wrongly punished.
Ian Owens, a deputy to Councilman John Duran, said he was acting in the public’s best interest when he emailed snippets of his colleague’s personal phone conversations at City Hall.
Owens said he took action only after being ignored by his own boss, whom Owens said was upset with him because Owens had spurned his boss’ sexual advances.
In an eight-page letter sent to the city Monday, Aanand Ghods-Mehtani said West Hollywood had retaliated against his client and unlawfully suspended him last month.
Owens is now on paid administrative leave while city officials and Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives investigate allegations that he bugged the City Hall office of Fran Solomon, the deputy to Councilman John Heilman.
Owens reportedly suspected Solomon was soliciting campaign contributions for her boss, who is running for reelection, on city time.
In the letter, Owens’ attorney threatens a lawsuit against the city unless several demands are met, including that Owens be allowed to return to work.
“City officials cannot continue to play games with Mr. Owens’s life,” Ghods-Mehtani wrote.
Owens’ claims are the latest story-lines in the unfolding political drama in West Hollywood as the highly competitive March 3 City Council election approaches.
Council candidate Larry Block was sued last month by celebrity spraytanner Jimmy Jimmy Coco. The professional spraytanner said Block was his landlord and installed “spy cameras” to catch him in the nude. Block said the lawsuit, which mentions his candidacy numerous times, was politically motivated.
West Hollywood political observers say the atmosphere in City Hall has grown toxic in recent weeks, especially among the highly-paid, full-time deputies. Some candidates said they believe the deputy system should be reformed.
Owens was suspended after a spreadsheet including quotes from Solomon’s private office telephone conversations was emailed to local bloggers and city residents. Though the Excel spreadsheet was e-mailed under a different name, Owens is listed in the document’s metadata as its creator.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Martin Rodriguez said the department’s major crimes bureau now is investigating to determine if any “inappropriate or criminal activity” occurred.
Ghods-Mehtani said in his letter that his client sent the spreadsheet because he was “frustrated by the lack of response” to his claims that Solomon was soliciting campaign contributions from City Hall. Owens did not bug Solomon’s office, which is next to his, but heard her talking through City Hall’s “extremely thin walls,” Ghods-Mehtani wrote.
According to the letter, Duran and Owens had a one-time sexual encounter, and the councilman hired Owens shortly after meeting him on Grindr, a smartphone dating app for gay and bisexual men. But Owens, his attorney said, declined Duran’s repeated sexual advances after he was hired.
Duran called the letter “an outrageous false accusation meant to detract from the wrongdoing that he did.”
The councilman emphasized that he is rarely in his City Hall office during the day and could not have created the alleged hostile work environment. All of West Hollywood’s part-time council members have other jobs, relying on their deputies to meet with constituents and provide legislative research.
Duran has endorsed Solomon’s boss, Heilman.
Ghods-Mehtani said Solomon bullied his client after he complained about a conference call in which she allegedly tried to “solicit bribes” from wealthy developers. Solomon, he said, became “openly hostile” toward Owens and would “make spitting noises at him and stomp her feet when she walked by him.”
Solomon has declined comment while the matter is being investigated.
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