Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa came back Tuesday from a one-week vacation in Iceland, just as a private fundraiser for his signature antigang initiative took place at L.A. Live, the entertainment complex owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group.
The event was held at L.A. Live's Grammy Museum, and AEG was credited as one of the sponsors of the bash, which raised money for the mayor's Summer Night Lights, a program to provide activities for youths.
The arrangement with AEG has sparked complaints from one of the city's noisier activists, who has repeatedly called on the mayor and City Council to demand repayment from the company for the $1.4-million cost of last month's Michael Jackson memorial, which was held at Staples Center and L.A. Live.
"This is why they didn't ask for our taxpayer dollars reimbursed back from the Jackson event," said Monica Harmon, a public safety activist who lives on the Westside.
Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo dismissed such comments, saying "at some point we need to draw a line between healthy skepticism and a sick obsession with conspiracy.
"We're talking about a program that is literally saving lives and bringing hope to communities which have been ignored for decades," Szabo added. "To suggest that there are any nefarious motives is ridiculous and disgusting."
Last month's memorial for Jackson sparked a debate among citizens and policymakers over who should pay for the event. When the event was televised, the airing ended with a credit for AEG and the words "All Rights Reserved."
The mayor has regularly asked AEG for help with his political and policy initiatives, receiving six-figure contributions for his school takeover effort and, more recently, for a telephone tax ballot measure.
Over the last few weeks, Villaraigosa's gang czar, the Rev. Jeff Carr, had been sending out invitations to the "Hot Summer's Night" fundraiser, which cost $250 per ticket and featured Pete Carroll, the University of Southern California football coach, as a special guest.
AEG officials said the company was one of a dozen sponsors and has supported various Carr initiatives since before he was hired by Villaraigosa. The company waived the rental fees for the Grammy Museum, which it regularly does for nonprofits.
The Summer Night Lights initiative extends the hours of 16 park facilities to midnight and provides extra activities, including sports and arts programs, to neighborhood youths. Aside from AEG, event sponsors included Majestic Realty, Deloitte and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, according to the invitation.
The event's host committee has dozens of members, some of whom have battled over the Jackson memorial costs. The panel includes Councilman Dennis Zine, who repeatedly pressed AEG to reimburse the city for the cost of policing the memorial, and AEG President and Chief Executive Tim Leiweke, who called Zine "shameful."
Villaraigosa was in Iceland last week with his son and a few friends.
According to a source familiar with the trip, the mayor's retinue included Richard Katz, his point man at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Keith Brackpool, chief executive of Cadiz.
Brackpool's company, which hopes to complete a water banking project in the Mojave Desert, has employed both Katz and Villaraigosa over the last decade.