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Secretary Fined for Role in Illegal Bid to Aid Hahn

Law firm employee helped her attorney boss launder donations in 2001 mayoral campaign.

July 20, 2006|Jeffrey L. Rabin | Times Staff Writer

The secretary to prominent Los Angeles attorney Pierce O'Donnell has been fined $41,000 by the city Ethics Commission for her role in "aiding and abetting" his laundering of contributions to James K. Hahn's 2001 campaign for mayor.

The fine imposed Tuesday brings to $445,700 the amount of civil and criminal penalties levied in connection with O'Donnell's laundering of 26 contributions to Hahn's campaign.

The penalties are among the largest ever imposed in Los Angeles for laundering of political contributions.

Los Angeles voters have limited the amount that any individual can give directly to candidates for city office. The maximum contribution in a citywide race is $1,000 per election, except in certain circumstances.

It is illegal to make political contributions in the name of others.

In February, O'Donnell pleaded no contest to five misdemeanor counts of using a false name in making political contributions to the Hahn campaign. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge sentenced O'Donnell to three years' probation, ordered him to pay $155,200 in fines and penalties, and barred him from participating in any political fundraising for three years.

The State Bar of California is evaluating whether to take disciplinary action against O'Donnell, a nationally known trial lawyer.

In March, the Ethics Commission levied a $147,000 civil fine after O'Donnell admitted that he made the contributions under assumed names. O'Donnell used $25,500 in personal funds to reimburse the contributions made by employees of his law firm, their relatives and other associates, including his personal trainer.

The same month, the state Fair Political Practices Commission fined O'Donnell $72,000 in connection with the laundered donations.

The Ethics Commission staff had recommended that O'Donnell's secretary, Dolores Valdez, be fined $61,500 for her role in soliciting and reimbursing 21 of the contributions. But the commission scaled back the penalty Tuesday after her attorney, Michael J. Proctor, argued that Valdez was not in a position to challenge her powerful boss.

Valdez is the last to be fined in connection with the laundered contributions, said Ethics Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham. The commission has taken action against 21 other individuals.

Pelham said those individuals allowed themselves to be used as conduits for the illegal contributions.

"These are very serious violations," she said. "You don't get off the hook by saying, 'I didn't do the reimbursing.' They were part of the overall scheme."

With the penalty against Valdez, the Ethics Commission alone has imposed $218,500 in fines in the O'Donnell case, the fourth-highest in the agency's history, Pelham said.

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