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Snyder's Records Seized in Inquiry : Investigation: Search is first formal sign ex-councilman is suspected of criminal acts in a campaign finance probe that has led to nearly $1 million in penalties for associates.

November 02, 1994|RICH CONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Signaling that a campaign money-laundering investigation has expanded to include suspicions of more serious criminal activity, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office seized records Tuesday at the home and law offices of former City Councilman Arthur Snyder, a prominent lobbyist and political fund-raiser.

A search warrant used in the early morning raids indicates that investigators suspect Snyder and his law partner, Gilbert Archuletta, of a conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws by funneling donations to candidates, according to two lawyers representing Snyder and his associates.

The searches were the first formal indication that Snyder is suspected of illegal activity in a wide-ranging probe that already has led to nearly $1 million in penalties against several individuals and entities associated with Snyder and his law firm.

Those fines included the largest such penalty in U.S. history, $895,000 from a huge Taiwan-based shipping firm that was managed locally by Snyder's brother-in-law.

Tuesday's development was one of the most significant in an ambitious three-year effort by state and local investigators to examine the inner workings of campaign financing in California.

Snyder, who could not be reached for comment, has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has steadfastly insisted he knew nothing of improper political donations.

Snyder's attorney, Mark Geragos, said the raids were "nothing but further harassment because (investigators) have been unable to make a civil case against him."

Geragos, who also represents Archuletta, said Archuletta already has resolved questions about improper contributions by agreeing in June to pay $16,000 in penalties and by admitting to eight campaign law violations.

Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, declined to comment Tuesday, saying "we can neither confirm nor deny anything about that matter."

Officials at the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which has been pursuing the case and had a representative accompany county investigators on the raids, declined to provide specifics.

FPPC Chairman Ben Davidian would say only that "we've been very pleased with the work of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. As we have in past, we will work with that law enforcement office, and any other office on any alleged wrongdoing . . . that falls within our jurisdiction."

The investigation of Snyder's associates centers on allegations that tens of thousands of dollars were given to candidates by donors who were secretly reimbursed. Such money-laundering is illegal because it conceals the source of a candidates' financial backers and circumvents limits on contributions.

Typically, such violations lead to administrative fines. But Tuesday's searches show that investigators are pursuing a possible felony conspiracy case, Geragos said. He added, however, that such an investigation would be a pointless fishing expedition.

Investigators Tuesday seized campaign-related records and any related checks, notes, communications and files going back six years. While the raids were the first indication of a criminal investigation, Geragos said bank records from the law firm had been subpoenaed by the district attorney in recent weeks.

In addition to searching Snyder's home and law office, investigators took documents from the home of Chi May Chen, the controller at Snyder's firm who already has admitted to a series of violations and paid $38,000 in penalties.

Chen's attorney, Susan Strick, said her client is not a target of the investigation and has been granted immunity from prosecution. She declined to say whether Chen will cooperate with investigators, but added that "she hasn't been uncooperative."

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