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Rep. Cardenas spends 40% of reelection fund on legal fees, but his lawyer denies federal probe

Campaign reports show that Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) has spent $306,470 of his reelection fund on legal services from five area firms.

Campaign reports show that Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) has spent $306,470 of his reelection fund on legal services from five area firms.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) has poured more than $300,000 from his reelection campaign fund into legal services with five Los Angeles law firms in the last year, but his attorney says there is no indication the congressman is the subject of a rumored federal investigation.

More than a dozen people who have worked for or contributed to politicians in the San Fernando Valley have been subpoenaed by federal investigators in the last year, including an aide for the congressman’s district office who previously worked for him when he was a member of the Los Angeles City Council.

The $306,470 accounts for 40% of the $780,898 Cardenas has spent on his reelection campaign. He is being challenged by former Los Angeles City Council member Richard Alarcon and community advocate Benny Bernal.

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The most recent report submitted by the campaign to the Federal Election Commission shows Cardenas paid $75,000 to the firms Jan. 19. Four of the law firms specialize in white-collar crime.

Last year an aide to the congressman, Gabriela Marquez, received a grand jury subpoena, which she reported as required by House rules. Weeks before, the FBI asked her if congressional employees were performing campaign work on government time, according to unnamed sources cited in Roll Call.

Six months later, several staffers to Los Angeles City Council member Nury Martinez, who replaced Cardenas on the City Council, received subpoenas to appear before a grand jury to discuss her 2015 campaign. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that some of Martinez’s campaign contributors — those who gave $5 or $10 — had been called before the grand jury or interviewed by FBI agents.

It is not clear if the subpoenas are related or not. Cardenas endorsed Martinez to replace him on the City Council, and she hired several members of his former staff after winning the seat.

Last year, Cardenas turned down The Times’ interview requests to discuss the grand jury subpoena. His campaign spokesman declined to discuss the investigation, instead providing a statement from attorney Gary Lincenberg of law firm Bird Marella.

“Attorneys are often hired to ensure that one is properly assisting the government and in complying with regulations. In this instance, the United States attorney has given no indication that Congressman Cardenas is a subject of any investigation,” Lincenberg said.

Previous campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show Cardenas’ campaign spent $231,470 on legal services with five Los Angeles law firms in 2015. Of that, about $125,000 was paid between mid-October and late November, when the subpoenas to Martinez’s staffers were issued.

The same five firms have repeatedly appeared in Cardenas’ financial reports. In January, they each received another payment. Bird Marella received $35,000; Huang, Ybarra, Singer and May received $10,000; Hueston Hennigan was paid $10,000; Scheper Kim and Harris received $10,000; and Strumwasser and Woocher was paid $10,000.

Only Strumwasser and Woocher appeared among the disbursements in Cardenas’ 2012 and 2014 campaign finance reports, receiving $500 in January 2013 as a retainer for professional services and legal advice.

The east San Fernando Valley congressman is seeking a third term. Spokesman Josh Pulliam said he hasn’t spoken with the congressman about how voters might view the campaign funds going to legal services.

“He doesn’t take any of his reelections for granted,” Pulliam said. “He’s really plugged into the district and he’s certainly going to have more than enough resources to get his message out.”

Cardenas is the only candidate in the race who has raised a substantial amount of money.

Alarcon has raised $16,488 and had $14,511 on hand, according to his filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Prosecutors announced April 22 that Alarcon and his wife, Flora, will be retried on perjury and voter fraud charges.

In 2014, a jury found them guilty of lying about where they lived so that Richard Alarcon could run for a council seat. The state’s 2nd District Court of Appeals threw out the convictions, saying the trial judge had given an improper jury instruction.

The Alarcons are due back in court June 24 for a pretrial conference, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said.

Alarcon said Friday that the prosecutor’s announcement didn’t change his plans for the race. He said he’ll move to have the charges dismissed.

When he entered the race in March, Alarcon called on Cardenas to explain rumors of a U.S. attorney’s investigation to voters in the 29th Congressional District.

Alarcon questioned why the congressman needs legal help from five law firms and if his campaign is paying the legal fees for anyone else.

“Just the fact that he’s spent that much money has to cause concern among voters,” Alarcon said. “I have my own legal concerns, but the voters know exactly what’s going on.”

Bernal, the third Democrat in the race, started the year with $1,219. He raised $5,640, spent $5,952 and had $907 on hand.

The Federal Election Commission website does not show that Democrats David Guzman and Joe Shammas have filed the campaign finance reports that were due April 15.

California’s primary election is June 7. The last day to register to vote is May 23.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Twitter: @sarahdwire

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics.

ALSO:

Alarcon and his wife will be retried on perjury and voter fraud charges, prosecutors say

With his convictions overturned, Richard Alarcon says he’ll run against Rep. Tony Cardenas

Cardenas remains quiet on questions surrounding subpoena of aide


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