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E-mail invite raises hackles in Beverly Hills

Event backing Beverly Hilton project violates voting laws, resident says. The hotel calls it an innocent mistake.

October 10, 2008|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

The Beverly Hilton calls it an innocent mistake. David Hakimfar calls it a violation of federal voting laws.

Whichever, the episode has become the latest dust-up to hit Beverly Hills as voters wrestle over whether to approve the Hilton's planned "revitalization."

Beny Alagem, the Hilton's owner, contends that the project would dress up a dated corner and provide millions in revenue each year for city services. Opponents decry it as an outsize expansion and a traffic disaster in the making.

For months, Alagem has been wining and dining residents with the aim of drumming up enthusiasm for the project, which would add a 12-story Waldorf-Astoria hotel and two luxury condo towers at Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. The issue will be on the November ballot as Measure H, with a "yes" vote signifying support.

Last week, an invitation to an open-bar affair at the hotel's Trader Vic's poolside lounge raised the hackles of Hakimfar, a recent graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.

The invitation -- which was e-mailed to several people and posted on Facebook by Ardy Pirnia, a paid member of the Hilton's campaign staff -- read in part: "We're turning the poolside lounge at the Beverly Hilton into a club . . . reminder: Your ticket into the event is your ballot showing that you voted for Measure H or vote [sic] at the door."

Never mind that voting had not yet begun or that it would be difficult if not impossible to show proof of how one voted. To Hakimfar, the idea of offering free food and entertainment in exchange for a vote was offensive and illegal.

"Citizens of Beverly Hills are being bribed for their votes," said Hakimfar, 26, who was born and raised in Beverly Hills.

Last week, Hakimfar reported the language of the invitation to Beverly Hills City Atty. Laurence S. Wiener. In an interview this week, Wiener said he immediately called Hilton representatives, who said the wording would be taken off Pirnia's Facebook site. In a follow-up letter to Wiener, Harvey A. Englander, a Hilton consultant, said that "the young man has removed the unauthorized posting" and issued retractions to each person to whom he sent the original message by e-mail.

Marie Garvey, a Hilton spokeswoman, called the invitation "an innocent mistake by a young campaign worker."

Wiener added that, in his opinion, no crime had been committed because the event had not yet been held.

"From my perspective, we have avoided this taking place," he said.

Hakimfar, who gave an impassioned speech about the issue at Tuesday's Beverly Hills City Council meeting, begged to differ.

"You prosecute," he said. "Vote buying is a serious offense."

The open-bar event is scheduled for Thursday. According to Pirnia's retraction, "one and all are welcome, supporters, undecideds and opponents alike."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

Times staff writer Lauren Raab contributed to this report.

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