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Former airport panelist accused of felony conflict

Prosecutors say ex-Hahn associate Leland Wong voted on a concessions contract at LAX in which he allegedly had a financial stake.

June 01, 2007|Ted Rohrlich | Times Staff Writer

Leland Wong, a power broker in former Mayor James K. Hahn's administration who already is facing bribery charges, was accused Thursday of a felony conflict of interest for voting on a retail concessions contract at Los Angeles International Airport in which he allegedly had a financial stake.

Wong was an airport commissioner in 2002, when the vote took place.

Wong is awaiting trial on charges that he accepted a $100,000 bribe from a shipping company while serving on the airport panel and, later, the port commission.

He is accused of trying to help the company get more space at the Port of Los Angeles. He also is accused of two counts of conflicts of interest in that case.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley trumpeted the new development, issuing a statement that "Leland Wong abused the public's trust through a variety of 'pay to play' schemes that our office continues to uncover."

Wong's attorneys, Janet Levine and Jeffrey Rutherford, called the prosecution's cases weak and said they were "confident that Leland Wong will be fully exonerated when the fight is over, no matter how many desperation shots the prosecution tries to take."

A group calling itself Asian Pacific Americans for Justice also blasted the district attorney's office, accusing it of singling out Wong, a second-generation Chinese American, as the only person charged in a joint state-federal "pay to play" investigation that targeted Hahn administration figures. Hahn has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Wong's arraignment on the latest charge was set for this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The airport contract was for a company called DTR Travel Retail, owned by Miami businessman Benny Klepach, to operate a store and two kiosks at LAX under an umbrella contract for retail concessions then held by the W.H. Smith Co.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman, the prosecutor in the case, said a conflict of interest arose for Wong because Wong had solicited both W.H. Smith and Klepach for a proposed business deal of his own.

According to Huntsman, Wong first approached W.H. Smith Chief Executive Sean Anderson and asked whether his company was interested in paying Wong to help set up some sort of "duty-free concessions" in Asia.

The prosecutor said Wong and Anderson unsuccessfully scouted for airport locations while traveling with then-Mayor Hahn on a city business trip to Asia.

At some point, the prosecutor said, Anderson suggested that Klepach, who also owns Duty Free Air and Ship Supply, would be a more likely partner.

Wong later attempted to broker a deal between Klepach's company and Cathay Pacific Airways to sell duty-free goods on planes.

The deal, which never was consummated, would have brought Wong hundreds of thousands of dollars, Huntsman said.

That attempt, Huntsman said, took place after the vote.

In 2003, The Times reported other allegations that, while on the airport commission the previous year, Wong had attempted to dictate to W. H. Smith who some of its subcontractors should be.

At the time, Wong acknowledged having pushed for the daughter of one local lobbyist and a businesswoman he knew.

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