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Feds probe former school board members' consulting fees

August 5, 2009 |  3:14 pm

JOSE Federal investigators are examining whether a labor-affiliated nonprofit group improperly funneled consulting fees to Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and former Board of Education member David Tokofsky, sources close to the investigation say.

The inquiry is looking into payments of about $30,000 each to Huizar and Tokofsky by Voter Improvement Program Inc., a nonprofit group headed by local labor leader Miguel Contreras, who died in 2005. Investigators want to determine if Contreras was, in effect, using the nonprofit as a “slush fund” to reward allies, according to the sources, who declined to be identified because the investigation is ongoing and confidential. The inquiry  reportedly extends beyond the two officials whose names have come to light. 

The fees to Huizar and Tokofsky were paid in 2003 and 2004—when both were on the city’s elected Board of Education

As part of the investigation, a federal grand jury summoned current school board President Monica Garcia to testify, but she has not agreed to appear. Garcia, who is considered a witness rather than a suspect, served as Huizar's chief of staff during his five years on the school board, from 2001 through 2005. She also worked as his campaign manager during his initial and successful City Council bid in 2005.

In required disclosure forms, Huizar and Tokofsky listed their work with Voter Improvement. The broader issue is what work they performed and whether that employment relationship was appropriate, sources said.

Word of an investigation of Huizar and Tokofsky first appeared this week in the Daily Journal, which specializes in coverage of the city’s legal community and litigation issues. 

Although grand jury testimony is legally confidential, witness interviews outside of court are not and several current and former officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District verified that they, too, had been questioned over the last six months.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment. Garcia is traveling in Mexico and could not be reached for comment. She has retained an attorney, who also declined to speak on the matter. Tokofsky could not be reached. Reached in City Council chambers, Huizar would not answer questions.

-- Howard Blume, Scott Glover and David Zahniser

Photo: Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar. Credit: Stefano Paltera/For The Times