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L.A. County district attorney opens inquiry into Villaraigosa’s acceptance of tickets [Updated]

June 22, 2010 | 10:48 am

Villaraigosaatlakersgame Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has opened an inquiry into Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's practice of accepting free tickets to sports events, concerts and award shows – and whether he should have reported those tickets to the city's Ethics Commission.

[For the record, 12:20 p.m.: An earlier headline on this post said "L.A. County district attorney opens inquiry into Villaraigosa’s gift-taking." It has not yet been established that the tickets were gifts.]

David Demerjian, head deputy of Cooley's Public Integrity Division, said he contacted the commission after receiving a complaint that referenced several stories by The Times and by KTTV-TV Channel 11 about the mayor's tickets.

"Obviously, the issue is whether the mayor received gifts which he failed to report," Demerjian said.

State and city laws require politicians to report gifts they receive — and say who gave them. Those laws limit the value of the tickets from exceeding $420 from any one source in a year. Elected officials are exempt from those requirements, however, if they conduct official business or have a "ceremonial" role at an event.

Villaraigosa contends he attended as many as 80 events free of charge – each was identified on his official calendar -- as part of his official duty to promote and represent Los Angeles. At some events, the mayor presented a decorative city proclamation to athletes, entertainers or organizers.

Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton did not comment but said previously that the mayor believes he complied with "all applicable laws and regulations." Two weeks ago, The Times reported that the mayor's lawyer, Brian Currey, could not find records that spelled out who paid for the tickets.

Currey is still searching for documentation to show what types of public duties the mayor performed. So far, Villaraigosa has confirmed that he paid for a single event – a U2 concert at the Rose Bowl.

The mayor's practices stand in contrast to his predecessor, James Hahn, who publicly reported tickets he received to similar sporting events and award shows, including the Academy Awards, the Grammys, a Rose Bowl game, Dodgers and Angels games, a Lakers game and a UCLA- USC football game. Billionaire New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, pays his own way to entertainment and sporting events, including Yankees games.

Villaraigosa's office also has not produced any documents that would show that the financial value of those tickets or whether he took guests who also received free tickets.

The Ethics Commission opened an investigation into Villaraigosa's tickets earlier this month, sending the mayor a letter on June 2 asking for a series of records. Demerjian said his office's actions only rise to the level of an inquiry.

"You can't label something an investigation until we've determined that an actual crime has occurred," Demerjian said. "And at this point, I cannot say whether or not a crime has occurred."

--David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, talks with producer Jeffrey Katzenberg as they attend a Lakers game in May. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press