A state commission on Friday approved $218,000 in fines against Mattel Inc., a former executive for the El Segundo-based toy maker and a political consultant, ending an investigation into political money-laundering.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission voted unanimously to fine Mattel $72,000 for failing to properly disclose contributions. The panel fined a former Mattel senior vice president, Fermin Cuza, $88,000 for laundering Mattel funds in political contributions. Political consultant Alan Schwartz was fined $58,000 for aiding and abetting Cuza in the scheme.
"Political money-laundering is among the most egregious violations of campaign finance laws because you are deliberately flouting the disclosure rules and intentionally not disclosing where contributions come from," said the commission chairwoman, Karen Getman.
When combined with fines levied by federal and Los Angeles ethics officials, Mattel, Cuza and Schwartz will pay a total of $931,000.
Cuza signed an agreement with the commission in which he admitted using $52,000 in Mattel funds to reimburse himself and others after they made 56 contributions to 25 state and local political campaigns between 1996 and 2000.
Campaigns that received the funds included those for Gov. Gray Davis; Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer; state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey); County Supervisor Don Knabe; Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco; L.A. City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo; and former Los Angeles mayoral candidates Xavier Becerra and Antonio Villaraigosa.
The investigation found no evidence that the candidates knew the contributions were laundered or that Mattel officials other than Cuza were aware of the scheme, according to Julie Bilaver, an attorney for the commission.
Bilaver told the panel that Mattel has changed some practices to prevent future abuses.
"It's just astonishing to me that a company as large and sophisticated as Mattel would have a scheme like this going on under its nose," Getman said.
"A scheme this big that went on for this length of time is not something we see all the time," she added.