Antonovich withdraws stadium motion amid conflict questions
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich on Tuesday withdrew a motion that could have slowed progress on a proposed downtown NFL stadium after the stadium developer’s lawyer questioned whether Antonovich had a financial conflict of interest in the matter.
The potential conflict stems from claims by Antonovich's wife that she is owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by an affiliate of the developer Anschutz Entertainment Group, according to an attorney for the firm.
County supervisors on Tuesday had been scheduled to consider a motion by Antonovich opposing AEG's push in Sacramento to curtail the time period allowed for legal challenges to its $1-billion stadium proposal. But in a letter Monday, AEG lawyer James Sutton said a vote should not be cast until the county’s lawyers determine whether Antonovich should be disqualified from participating.
In a letter to the county’s lawyers, Sutton said that Antonovich’s wife, Christine Hu Antonovich, has been locked in a dispute over fees for more than a year with AEG’s affiliate in Shanghai, AEG Business Management Consulting. Hu Antonovich claimed that she earned those fees while introducing AEG executives to Chinese officials several years ago, Sutton said.
Antonovich opposes legislation that would shorten the time period for challenges to AEG's environmental impact report -- unless similar protections are provided to county hospitals, libraries, schools and transportation projects.
Antonovich said the intent of his motion was to protect taxpayers and he was surprised that AEG interjected a family member into the debate.
Antonovich told The Times he did not inform his staff or county counsel that his wife had a financial dispute with AEG and did not believe it posed a conflict. “No, because this doesn’t deal with AEG. This deals with the subsidiary in China,” he said.
Antonovich’s spokesman, Tony Bell, said the motion was "good public policy that is consistent with the board's previous position opposing environmental exemptions for a stadium in the city of Industry in 2009."
Mason Yost, the attorney for Christine Hu Antonovich, would not say how much his client is owed but said she was demanding less than $200,000 from AEG’s Shanghai affiliate.
Yost, who was attending Tuesday’s board meeting, said AEG’s Shanghai entity hired his client as a consultant because its executives believed their chances of breaking into the Chinese market would be “enhanced by having her on board.” The company has been pursuing sports venues in China, he said.
“Ms. Antonovich has performed consulting services for that entity, and we are in negotiations with them regarding her compensation for those services,” Yost said. “She has never had anything to do with any company that has any projects in Los Angeles County. Those are separate entities.”
Because the two entities are separate, there is nothing to prevent Antonovich from voting, Yost said. “It seems to me there’s no conflict because Christine has nothing to do with any projects in Los Angeles,” he said.
But Sutton questioned whether Antonovich should have made the proposal to begin with. “If you have a conflict, you can’t introduce a motion that affects your personal financial situation,” said Sutton, who also forwarded his letter to the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Sutton said that in 2008, Hu Antonovich helped AEG executives meet Chinese leaders. Two years later, “out of the clear blue sky,” she said she was owed money for those introductions, he said. Although AEG doesn’t believe there was a binding agreement for payment, it has been talking to her about a settlement “just to put this matter behind them,” Sutton said.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall and Garrett Therolf at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration