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15 FACE FINES IN CITY HALL CORRUPTION.

Byline: James Nash Staff Writer

A Los Angeles real-estate development executive and 14 of his company's subcontractors who conspired to launder more than $200,000 in campaign contributions to city politicians will be fined and put on probation but won't go to jail under a plea agreement reached Thursday.

Casden Properties Vice President John Archibald and the others face fines ranging from $2,700 to $21,700 and were put on probation for three years in the plea bargain with District Attorney Steve Cooley's office.

Archibald, who was accused of funneling the company's money to the subcontractors to avoid campaign finance limits, also was ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.

The convictions - on a guilty plea from Archibald and no-contest pleas from the others - are the first to grow out of continuing investigations by county and federal prosecutors of ``pay-to-play'' and campaign law violations during the administration of Mayor James Hahn.

City Hall critics took satisfaction in the convictions as a possible step toward cleaning up corruption, but insiders said Cooley's decision to settle for misdemeanor convictions on what had been felony charges was an admission of the weakness of the case.

``Case settlements often involve reducing felonies to misdemeanors,'' Cooley said in defense of his action. ``This is a very appropriate settlement of this case. Much was achieved. A message was sent that when it comes to the rules that are set, people are being held accountable.''

The plea bargains on charges that could have carried three-year prison terms cap one of Los Angeles' highest-profile campaign fraud cases, involving contributions made in 2000 and 2001.

In an unrelated case, prominent Los Angeles attorney Pierce O'Donnell is charged with making illegal contributions to Hahn's 2001 campaign. Prosecutors have charged O'Donnell, two other attorneys and five assistants and relatives with conspiring to circumvent financing limits in donating $25,500 to Hahn.

Federal and local investigators also are looking into allegations that city officials traded airport and port contracts for campaign contributions or denied contracts to those would would not contribute.

Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies, said he would have preferred for the Casden defendants to have spent a day in prison. But Stern said he was pleased that they were criminally convicted, even of misdemeanors, rather than having the case settled administratively by the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

``Money laundering is the worst violation because it deprives the public of information, and it gets around the contribution limits, and it's a clear attempt to break the law,'' Stern said. ``At least it's a criminal conviction, and it's a stain on people's reputations. I'm not saying they should spend three years in jail for something like this.''

One area political consultant, who asked to remain anonymous because he said he feared retaliation by Cooley, said the widely publicized crusade against campaign corruption was more show than substance.

``If you're going to elevate these things to the level (Cooley) is talking about, and then you settle for a few thousand dollars and some community service, aren't you better off indicting the real criminals?'' the consultant asked.

City Council members Wendy Greuel and Jack Weiss, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Kathleen Connell got the Casden contributions. They denied knowing about the wrongdoing and were not charged. They declined comment or were unavailable to comment.

Jeffrey Eglash, attorney for Casden Properties, declined to comment.

Archibald's attorney, Michael Fitzgerald, said only: ``Like Mr. Archibald, I am pleased that this matter is resolved.''

Juliet Schmidt, a Casden case prosecutor from the District Attorney's Office's Public Integrity Division, declined comment.

Prosecutors pushed for community service from Archibald, rather than stiffer financial penalties, because they believed that he could easily afford to pay a fine or that the company would reimburse him, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office. Prosecutors initially suggested that Archibald serve out his penalty working for the California Department of Transportation, but dropped the demand Thursday when Fitzgerald said his client would not agree to it.

Under terms of their probation, Archibald and the subcontractors may not raise money for political candidates or causes for three years. They also could face more fines by the city Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

James Nash, (213) 978-0390

james.nash(at)dailynews.com

THE DETAILS

A vice president of Casden Properties and 14 subcontractors for the firm entered pleas Thursday on an amended indictment charging them with one count each of money laundering in a scheme to violate city campaign-financing laws. In exchange, a felony conspiracy count was dismissed. The defendants still face additional fines by the city Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

--John Archibald, 54, of Simi Valley, the Casden executive, pleaded guilty and was fined $1,000 and ordered to complete 250 hours of community service.

The following defendants pleaded no contest and were ordered to pay fines and penalties:

--Anthony Boozel, 48, of TBCI, a concrete company, $8,200.

--Randall Carpenter, 59, of Design Masonry, $5,500.

--James Gates, 46, of Capital Drywall, $8,200.

--Jerry Hein, 56, of Desert Roofing, $8,200.

--Ed Hutcherson, 50, of Seems Plumbing, $9,550.

--William Isaac, 87, of Isaac Construction, $10,900.

--Brian Larrabure, 43, of BLF, a framing company, $14,950.

--Gerard Lundgren, 60, of Freedom Paint, $21,700.

--David Mercer, 56, of HMK Engineering, $10,900.

--Simon Rubin, 61, of Simon's Electric, $2,800.

--Bruce Shaffer, 61, of Starlight Showers and Doors, $16,200.

--Isaac Zaharoni, 63, of Zaharoni Industries, $8,200.

Two men pleaded no contest in separate complaints stemming from the same allegations of collecting contributions and reimbursing employees.

--Steven Acosta, 47, a CPA who owns Acosta & Co., $21,700.

--Dimitri Triphon, 53, a Beverly Hills plumber, $12,000.

- Daily News

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 15, 2004
Words:984
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