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Ridley-Thomas seeks criminal probe of Parks

State senator says the campaign of his rival for supervisor is illegally working with an independent panel.

September 13, 2008|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas attempted Friday to provoke a criminal investigation of alleged campaign finance improprieties by Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, his opponent in the race for county supervisor.

In a letter to the Los Angeles district attorney's Public Integrity Unit, a Ridley-Thomas aide charged that the Parks campaign was improperly coordinating with an independent expenditure committee that is allowed to exceed contribution limits only if it remains at arm's length from the candidate it supports.

The coordination, Ridley-Thomas' aide said, was carried out by a prominent Parks supporter, Helen Mars, owner of a Los Angeles printing company called California Litho-Arts.

"While Helen Mars and her company are printing hundreds of thousands of brochures for Parks, Mars also is participating in independent expenditures for him through the Coalition for Responsible Leadership, to which she also contributed $49,900," wrote Steve Barkan, a campaign consultant for Ridley-Thomas.

"As the printer for the Parks campaign, she has specific knowledge of the content of Parks' strategic campaign material. She can hardly be independent," Barkan wrote.

The work that Mars has done directly for Parks has totaled more than $100,000, and much of it has gone unpaid so far, according to recent campaign finance reports.

Barkan wrote that the work "is in effect an illegal loan from a close associate in excess of the legal limit of $1,000."

Mars has received tens of thousands of dollars in county printing contracts in recent years, records show, and at one time she employed Parks' wife, Bobbie, to handle public relations for the firm. The couple's son, Bernard Parks Jr., said his mother's employment by the firm ended in the late 1990s.

Parks Jr., chief of staff for the councilman, said the effort by Ridley-Thomas was an attempt to divert attention from the senator's own troubles.

One of Ridley-Thomas' most significant supporters has been Tyrone Freeman, the leader of a union representing home healthcare workers.

Last month, The Times reported that the union had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to firms owned by Freeman's wife and his mother-in-law.

The labor leader subsequently took a leave of absence while the union's national office and federal authorities conduct an investigation.

"This is the latest in a series of failed efforts by Mark Ridley-Thomas to dilute his relationship with Tyrone Freeman and their mission to fund his campaign on the backs of poor people," Parks said.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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