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Builder Charged With Violating Campaign Rules : Contributions: A state panel alleges Geoff Palmer hid the fact that he was a true source of donations to fight Santa Clarita cityhood and back an L.A. councilwoman.

October 26, 1991|RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State officials Friday charged a real estate developer, who has been involved in controversial housing projects in Santa Clarita and Woodland Hills, with 15 counts of illegally laundering campaign contributions.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission said that Geoff Palmer and his Los Angeles development firm, G.H. Palmer Associates, had violated rules that require that the true source of campaign donations be identified on state-required reports.

The commission said that campaign statements filed by a committee opposing the 1987 incorporation of the city of Santa Clarita showed that seven Palmer employees and one employee's mother donated a total of $7,000. But the commission alleges the employees were then reimbursed by Palmer or his firm for their contributions, making him the true source of the money.

The commission also alleges that Palmer contributed $3,500 to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joy Picus in 1987 under a similar scheme to disguise the source of the money.

Palmer did not return calls to his Los Angeles firm's office seeking comment on the allegations.

He is entitled to a hearing on the charges before an administrative law judge before the five-member commission makes a final decision. If found guilty, he and his firm face a maximum fine of $30,000, a commission spokeswoman said.

She said Palmer's campaign contributions have been under investigation since an anonymous complaint was made in January, 1989.

The contributions in 1987 to the Southern California Caucus, a political action committee opposed to Santa Clarita cityhood, helped pay for slick campaign mailers that had the contrary effect of alerting voters to the incorporation measure and helping it pass, cityhood advocates said later. The ballot measure drew overwhelming voter support.

At the time of the donations, Palmer had several projects pending in the area, the commission said.

Palmer had proposed spending $55 million on road and street improvements in exchange for the right to build 1,452 condominiums on 135 acres in Canyon Country. After rancorous public hearings over the course of five months, the Santa Clarita City Council defeated the proposal last year.

The contributions to Picus were made in 1987 when Palmer was building a 760-unit condominium project in Warner Center. They were recorded as coming from three secretaries at Palmer's firm, an office manager, an acquisitions manager, a project manager and the principals in the firm--Palmer and Don Saxon Palmer Jr. The condo project, known as The Summit, became controversial in 1989 when Palmer said the units would be rented instead of sold.

When Picus became aware that the seven $500 donations all came from Palmer and his employees, she returned them.

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