Alan Casden, one of the most successful real estate developers in Southern California, is the target of an investigation into the alleged laundering of campaign contributions to four politicians, including the Los Angeles city attorney and two members of the City Council, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Monday.
Cooley named the developer as a target after a Los Angeles County Grand Jury indicted an executive in Casden's company and 13 of his subcontractors on charges of conspiring to hand out illegal campaign donations.
The district attorney described the indictment as part of a wider investigation into illegal campaign funding in Los Angeles.
The indictment, returned Friday but not announced publicly until Monday, had immediate political repercussions: Councilman Jack Weiss, one of the candidates who received the allegedly tainted contributions, announced that he would oppose Casden's plans to build a controversial, $100-million residential and commercial development in Westwood. Weiss, who represents the area, cited the indictments as a factor in his decision.
Casden, who denied any wrongdoing, fought back by charging, through a spokeswoman, that Cooley had "repeatedly asked" for campaign contributions from his company. Cooley said that was not true.
The contributions at the heart of the investigation went to Weiss, fellow council member Wendy Greuel, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and 2001 mayoral candidate Kathleen Connell. None of the four has been charged with any crimes, and Cooley said they are not considered targets of the investigation.
Those reached by The Times denied any wrongdoing.
The 14 defendants, who were arraigned Monday, all worked, directly or indirectly, for Casden, a politically connected developer who is on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, and was an unsuccessful bidder for the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this year. They are accused of trying to get around campaign finance limits and hiding the true source of campaign money by soliciting dozens of relatively small contributions from people who would then be reimbursed for the donations.
Officials did not disclose the total amount of the contributions, but lumped together they exceeded the $1,000 campaign finance limit for individual contributions in citywide races to a candidate or campaign, or $500 in a City Council race.
The indictment charges that John Archibald, a vice president of Casden Properties, organized the efforts to raise illegal campaign contributions in 2000 and 2001. It also alleges that Archibald's actions were intended to curry favor with the officials on behalf of Casden Properties, LLC.
"Mr. Archibald is completely innocent of these charges and denies doing anything wrong with respect to any city election," said Robert Corbin, Archibald's lawyer.
Archibald, 54, and his co-defendants pleaded not guilty in a downtown courtroom before they were booked and released on their own recognizance. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Green ordered them back to court on Jan. 7.
In a telephone interview late Monday from his reelection campaign headquarters, Cooley said Casden "and/or his corporation are certainly considered targets in this ongoing investigation."
He said Casden had been invited to appear before the grand jury, but did not. "This is a person used to manipulating the system," Cooley said. "What he's not used to is a tough D.A. enforcing the laws."
Casden, who has denied violating campaign finance limits in the past, issued a statement Monday saying: "We believe the indictment of one of our company's middle-management employees is unwarranted and that he will be proven innocent when all the facts are known."
Through a spokeswoman, he also charged that Cooley had repeatedly asked Casden Properties to raise money for his last election campaign. The spokeswoman said the company had turned down the requests. Casden did not return repeated telephone calls seeking further comment.
Cooley denied Casden's accusation, saying he had not asked the developer to contribute to his 2000 election campaign, and Casden had not contributed.
"I have never spoken to the man," he said. "I have never seen the man. I didn't know anything about the man til we commenced our investigation in this case."
Since taking office three years ago, Cooley has focused on political corruption as one of his top priorities. He created a new unit to target illegal actions by politicians and government officials and to enforce campaign, election and open meeting laws. The unit has won convictions against several politicians.
Cooley has been criticized for failing to take on big players and high-profile cases. Nonetheless, he faces what is expected to be an easy reelection bid in March.
In a written statement issued Monday, he called the indictment of Archibald and the subcontractors "another major step in our effort to assure the integrity of the elective process for public officials in the city of Los Angeles."