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Dodger Bidder Is Focus of Probe

Offices are searched for evidence of campaign donation violations in 2001 mayoral race.

August 22, 2003|Patrick McGreevy, Roger Vincent and Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writers

Prosecutors on Thursday searched the Beverly Hills offices of developer Alan Casden, a contender to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, as part of an investigation into possible violations of campaign finance laws in the 2001 city mayoral race.

The 57-year-old Casden is on the Forbes 400 list of wealthy Americans, and since the 1970s, he has developed or acquired about 90,000 apartment units, mostly in Southern California, with a value of $5 billion. He has been heavily involved in developing affordable housing financed, in part, with tax credits.

He and his firm have contributed $213,000 that has benefited Los Angeles city candidates in the last four years, according to city Ethics Commission records.

Sources close to the investigation said the ethics panel and the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit are seeking to determine whether employees or subcontractors of the firm have been reimbursed by Casden's company for contributions to city candidates. That practice, known as political money laundering, hides the true source of the contribution. Contributions to City Council candidates were also under inquiry, the sources said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 112 words Type of Material: Correction
Campaign finance probe -- A headline in the Aug. 22 California section incorrectly identified Alan Casden as the focus of a probe into possible violations of campaign finance laws. The district attorney's Public Integrity Unit and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission are investigating whether employees of Casden's firm, Casden Properties Inc., or its subcontractors were improperly reimbursed for campaign contributions made in the 2001 city elections. The article also erroneously said Casden and firm associates were found guilty of violating federal securities laws. In fact, a jury returned a $185-million civil judgment against Casden, National Partnership Investments Corp. and others last year for violating Securities and Exchange Commission regulations regarding proxy solicitations.

Casden was out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Ronald Turovsky, said he did not know what county prosecutors were focusing on.

"We intend to fully cooperate," Turovsky said. "We are certainly aware of no violations."

Warrants were also served Thursday in Simi Valley, Granada Hills and Encino. One source said the properties were the homes of Casden's employees and the offices of a subcontractor.

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, would confirm only that the searches were tied to "an ongoing case into suspected campaign contribution violations in the mayoral race in 2001."

Casden has been a donor to local political campaigns for years. Last year, Casden Properties contributed $100,000 to Mayor James K. Hahn's campaign to defeat San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession.

Casden or his firm has also made small contributions to the campaigns of Hahn, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and City Council members Tom LaBonge, Wendy Greuel, Martin Ludlow, Janice Hahn, Alex Padilla and Ed Reyes, city records show.

In the 2001 mayoral election, James K. Hahn complained that Casden and others had contributed $100,000 each to the state Democratic Party while it was waging a mail and phone campaign in support of Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor. Hahn said that the spending on behalf of Villaraigosa circumvented the city's campaign contribution limits of $1,000 in mayoral races.

A lawyer for the California Democratic Party said Thursday that the state Fair Political Practices Commission had investigated and found no evidence that the party had received contributions earmarked for Villaraigosa. Democratic Party attorney Lance Olson said he had been told that the current investigation does not involve the state party expenditures for Villaraigosa.

Casden has also been in the spotlight over his business dealings, including a project, since dropped, at the site of the Ambassador Hotel.

Most recently, he made news with his proposal to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers from owner News Corp. and is thought to have put the largest offer on the table, at $400 million. Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcom Glazer is considered to be the buyer preferred by News Corp., but his inability to satisfy cross-ownership rules in baseball and the National Football League has diminished his chances of closing the deal, according to several people familiar with the negotiations.

Casden announced last month that he would like to move the Dodgers from their home field in Chavez Ravine to downtown Los Angeles near Staples Center. The developer said he would then raze Dodger Stadium and build thousands of housing units on the 300-acre hilltop site.

A new stadium could help spur the renaissance of downtown L.A., Casden said, while giving Chavez Ravine a chance to recapture a sense of how it looked before the 1950s -- a collection of homes surrounded by the green of Elysian Park.

The money he could make from developing housing in the neighborhood would be enough to finance a new stadium without public subsidy, Casden said. Real estate experts have valued Chavez Ravine land at about $1 million an acre.

Casden and associates at Casden Properties Inc. were found guilty in November of violating federal securities laws and breaching their fiduciary duties to former investors in a series of limited partnerships he ran. A jury ordered Casden's company to pay $184 million in damages to the former investors, though a federal judge in April reduced the damages to about $120 million.

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