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Trutanich defends bid to recover city money for Michael Jackson memorial

City attorney denies asking the owner of L.A. Live to pay the full tab for police, portable toilets and other services and says disputes over the company's sign permits are a separate matter.

October 23, 2009|Maeve Reston and Phil Willon

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich on Thursday defended his efforts to recoup city dollars spent on the Michael Jackson memorial, but denied asking the top executive of the company that owns Staples Center to pay $6 million during a meeting in July.

A day after AEG President and Chief Executive Tim Leiweke told The Times editorial board that Trutanich tried to "bully" the company into paying for various city services provided during the memorial, Trutanich justified his actions during a speech to members of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "If going after your money is being a bully, then I'm a bully; I have no problem doing that," Trutanich said. "We wasted a lot of dough on the Michael Jackson memorial."

The city attorney, who took office in July, said his only goal was "to make the citizens whole," not to "hurt a corporation that's been very, very good to the city of Los Angeles." AEG was the promoter of Jackson's "This is It" comeback tour, which was canceled after the pop singer's sudden death.

Leiweke said Wednesday that Trutanich demanded $6 million from AEG during a July meeting at a Starbucks at L.A. Live.

Trutanich said he asked AEG for $2 million to $3 million at that time.

The following month, Trutanich said, the city's top budget analyst calculated the city's overhead on the day of the Michael Jackson memorial at $6 million.

"The money that was offered back [from AEG] was insufficient," Trutanich said, explaining his account of the discussion.

Trutanich said his office is still investigating how much the city spent and could ask AEG to pay as much as $6 million: "I'm going to ask for what the city lost," he said.

City Hall's official estimate is that the the city spent $1.3 million on police overtime, portable toilets, redirecting traffic and providing other city services for the memorial. Leiweke said he had offered to help defray some of the cost.

The most immediate dispute between AEG and the city attorney's office concerns six signs at the company's new theater at L.A. Live, where the new Jackson documentary, "This Is It," will premiere.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing today on the disputed sign permits and Leiweke may testify. They will consider a motion by Councilwoman Jan Perry to instruct the city Department of Building and Safety to reconsider issuing the permits.

Last week, Trutanich told the interim general manager of that department, Raymond Chan, that he could face criminal prosecution if he issued the permits, even though AEG says plans for the signs were approved in 2006. Both Perry and officials from AEG insist that a sign ban approved by the council in August exempted preapproved projects that already were underway, including the signs on L.A. Live's Regal Theater.

"By refusing to acknowledge our binding legal agreement with the city of Los Angeles, the city attorney is leading the city into a lawsuit with damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars over breach of contract," said AEG spokesman Michael Roth. "His suggestion that he is sticking up for the taxpayer is a misinterpretation of the city's liability."

"This isn't really about AEG, it's about maintaining the legality of our current billboard ordinance," said David Berger, special assistant to Trutanich.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

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