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Lawyer says L.A. ethics agency cleared airport officials after travel inquiry

February 24, 2010 | 12:31 pm

A lawyer representing six current and former employees of Los Angeles World Airports said the city’s Ethics Commission has dropped a conflict-of-interest investigation into travel to China and New England taken by his clients.

Attorney Terree Bowers said Ethics Commission executive director LeeAnn Pelham directed her staff to close the investigation, which was examining whether the airport officials violated the law by receiving discounted trips from an association that represents dozens of international airlines that use Los Angeles International Airport.

Bowers said in a statement that his clients were “cleared of any impropriety” regarding the conferences hosted by LAX Terminal Equity Corp. Those officials “paid full value or more for their tickets and were stunned to have become respondents in an ethics inquiry,” Bowers said.

Pelham said her agency does not comment on specific investigations. But she said that in general, when an investigation ends without any charges being filed, the Ethics Commission typically sends a letter to the target of the inquiry spelling out the findings of the agency and the justification for the conclusion that was reached.

“We close cases for many reasons. Sometimes it’s a lack of evidence. Sometimes it’s the application of the law,” she said.

Bowers said the officials who were under scrutiny were senior assistant city attorney Eduardo Angeles, property manager Ronald Domash, chief engineer Intissar Durham, purchasing and supply services manager Karen Tozer, retired airport manager Leigh Hatayama and retired airport planning chief Warren Richard Wells.

The Times reported in December that city ethics investigators were recommending that civil charges be filed against the six officials. Those investigators had alleged in case records that the officials violated municipal code sections that prohibit city employees from accepting more than $100 in gifts per year from an individual person, company or organization.

At the time of the trips, LAX Terminal Equity had three airport contracts, including a lease for a VIP lounge at the Bradley terminal, an agreement to operate ground equipment there and a $7.7-million reimbursement contract to modify gates at LAX to accommodate the giant Airbus A380.

The trips involved a weeklong cruise last year along the New England and Canadian coasts as well as a six-day excursion in 2005 to Beijing and Shanghai.

Investigators said in case records that airport employees received gifts worth $1,124.46 per person during the China trip and at least $434 per person during the New England cruise, which included one night at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel.

In his statement, Bowers called for an investigation to determine who leaked information on the Ethics Commission case to the news media. He said that whoever engaged in the leak should be “found and sanctioned accordingly.”

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

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