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Corruption Probe Seeks Hahn E-Mails

Federal investigators demand computer messages from the mayor and his top staff.

August 13, 2004|Noam N. Levey and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

Federal prosecutors investigating possible corruption in city contracting have subpoenaed Mayor James K. Hahn's e-mails, moving their investigation closer to the mayor and all but ensuring that Hahn will be forced to campaign for reelection under the shadow of the criminal investigation.

The U.S. attorney's office also demanded e-mails from Hahn's longtime assistant and eight of his current and former deputies, including Hahn's chief of staff, Tim McOsker, and a former deputy mayor, Troy Edwards, who was Hahn's liaison to the port, airport and Department of Water and Power before he resigned amid controversy this spring.

Federal prosecutors have declined to say what they are investigating, but the U.S. attorney's office and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office began reviewing thousands of pages of contracting documents after allegations surfaced that city contracts had been awarded to political donors and denied to those who refused to make contributions to Hahn or causes he backed.

The latest subpoena seeks e-mail correspondence dating back to July 2, 2001, when Hahn took office. It was delivered Tuesday, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Times.

Hahn said Thursday that he would cooperate with all investigations, but he also for the first time publicly expressed frustration with the pace of the probe.

"I would only urge that the U.S. attorney's office put whatever resources they need on this to get to the bottom of it quickly," the mayor said.

"If people have done wrong, they need to be held accountable and people need to know that. On the other hand, if there hasn't been wrongdoing, that needs to be shared with the public as well.

"Lengthy investigations that go unresolved don't do anybody any good," Hahn said.

Although the legal ramifications of the subpoena remain to be determined, the ongoing criminal probe further complicates Hahn's reelection bid.

Hahn is in the early stages of a difficult campaign against four serious opponents vying to remove him in next year's election, and the investigation could hamper the mayor's ability to win commitments and contributions from potential supporters worried about where the probe is headed.

"He's going to have to go out there and convince people that he can win in spite of the fact that his administration continues to be under investigation," said longtime local political strategist Harvey Englander. "And every time there is a news story, the arthritis in the check writers' hands gets a little bit worse."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Adam Kamenstein, who signed off on the subpoena, would not comment about the subpoenas or the case.

The request for documents comes four months after the U.S. attorney asked the city to preserve all e-mails sent to or from the mayor's office since Hahn was sworn in.

It follows numerous subpoenas by local and federal prosecutors looking for documents related to city contracting, particularly at the airport, port and Department of Water and Power.

Since the beginning of the year, several senior airport and port officials as well as airport contractors have been called to testify before state and federal grand juries. But the latest subpoena focuses more directly on Hahn's office than the previous investigative forays.

Federal prosecutors sought e-mail from Hahn's two most senior deputies: McOsker, the chief of staff who has worked with Hahn since Hahn was city attorney; and Deputy Chief of Staff Nathalie Rayes.

They also repeated a demand for correspondence to and from Edwards, whose role overseeing the port, airport and Department of Water and Power after he raised money for Hahn's 2001 mayoral campaign put him at the center of questions about improper links between fundraising and contracting.

Edwards was called to testify before a county grand jury earlier this year.

Prosecutors also asked for the e-mails of two figures with ties to Fleishman-Hillard, the public relations giant that did extensive pro bono work for the mayor and is now under investigation for overbilling the DWP.

Shannon Murphy, who used to work for Fleishman, now heads the mayor's media office. Matt Middlebrook, a former deputy mayor, now works for Fleishman.

E-mails from four other Hahn aides were also subpoenaed, including those of Deputy Mayor Doane Liu, Deputy Mayor Julie Wong, longtime Hahn assistant Jean O'Malley and policy analyst Wendy Wang, who works on port issues. Liu, Wong and Wang have all testified before the federal grand jury investigating the Hahn administration.

Several former federal prosecutors said Thursday that determining precisely what prosecutors were after based on the subpoena alone was difficult.

But Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor who worked in the U.S. attorney's office in the 1980s, said the demand for documents was notable for its breadth.

"It's comprehensive and it's aggressive," Levenson said. "It certainly indicates that they are doing a thorough job."

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