State political watchdog fines CalPERS officials
The state's political ethics watchdog agency has fined California pension leaders and investment officers thousands of dollars for failing to report gifts received from investment firms with whom they did business.
The action Thursday by the Fair Political Practices Commission -- levying 16 fines ranging from $3,600 to $200 -- underscored that the California Public Employees' Retirement System remains embroiled in a 2-year-old influence-peddling and public-corruption scandal.
Most of the fines were for not disclosing, as required by law, the receipt of meals and gifts such as wine, Rose Bowl football tickets and promotional items including backpacks and computer flash drives.
Commissioner Ronald D. Rotunda called the gift violations "heinous" because those involved are entrusted with investing the money of 1.3 million state workers, retirees and their families.
He noted that gift violations included the acceptance of sports tickets that exceeded limits on value spelled out in state law.
"You can just pay for your own baseball games or just don't go," Rotunda said.
The enforcement actions, he warned, put CalPERS management on notice that it needs to comply with all state ethics and financial-disclosure laws.
The law requires that state employees who receive gifts worth more than a combined $50 from a single source in a year must report the gifts in an annual statement filed with the FPPC. The maximum total value of gifts allowed in a year from a single source is $420.
The best-known names on the proposed fine list were CalPERS board President Rob Feckner and board member Louis F. Moret. Each was fined $400 for not reporting gifts of meals and drinks. The largest fine, $3,600, went to staff portfolio manager Shaun Greenwood for not disclosing 32 gifts.
Most of the gift-related information was provided to FPPC investigators by CalPERS staff at the request of Chief Executive Anne Stausboll, CalPERS said.
"We are fully committed to transparency, openness and the highest ethical standards as we work to uphold the public trust and protect the retirement and health security of our members," Stausboll said in a statement released by her office.
Nevertheless, CalPERS could have been more aggressive in encouraging its board and staff to comply, said Gary S. Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement.
"I think they will tell you there was more they could have done to help employees comply with the [California Political Reform] Act," Winuk told the panel at its monthly meeting.
He stressed, however, that CalPERS officials fully cooperated with the FPPC investigation once it was opened.
The $221-billion CalPERS fund has been dealing with the fallout from an ongoing probe by federal and state law enforcement agencies into allegations that so-called placement agents -- outside deal-makers who bring together private investment managers and CalPERS -- were paid tens of millions of dollars in questionable fees.
The state attorney general's office is pursuing a lawsuit against one agent, former CalPERS board member Alfred J.R. Villalobos, who is accused of committing securities fraud, selling securities without broker-dealer licenses and violating state unfair-competition laws. Also named in the suit was Villalobos' business associate, former CalPERS Chief Executive Federico Buenrostro Jr.
-- Marc Lifsher and Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento
Photo: The CalPERS board meets in its Sacramento headquarters. Credit: Robert Durell / For The Times