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Villaraigosa donor faces fines up to $184,000

Alexander Hugh, a Koreatown developer, allegedly made illegal contributions to the mayor's 2009 reelection campaign. The city Ethics Commission will decide on the amount of the fine.

October 11, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

A Koreatown real estate developer faces nearly $184,000 in fines for allegedly making illegal contributions to the 2009 reelection campaign of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The city Ethics Commission meets Tuesday to decide how large a fine to hand Alexander Hugh, who was indicted by a grand jury earlier this year on charges that he conspired to circumvent campaign contribution limits, procured false documents and committed forgery.

Hugh has asked the five-member commission for leniency, saying he suffered major financial setbacks in recent years and has been "deeply" humiliated by reports in the Korean and mainstream media.

"The coverage of the two cases will make it almost impossible for Mr. Hugh to secure employment, consulting work or a role in real estate development in the Koreatown community to which he is devoted," wrote Hugh's lawyer, Kenneth P. White, in a document filed with the commission.

Prosecutors said they have no evidence that Villaraigosa knew of Hugh's activities. White said his client saved the city money by signing a document that serves as a statement of no contest.

Hugh traveled with Villaraigosa to Korea during the mayor's 2006 trade mission to Asia. During that trip, Villaraigosa held an event promoting the Emhurst Hotel, a development project planned by Hugh's company in Koreatown that was never completed.

The project was approved in 2007 and a year later, Hugh hosted a fundraiser for Villaraigosa's reelection campaign. Hugh asked 18 donors to give a combined $18,000 to Villaraigosa and then reimbursed each of them, according to Ethics Commission reports.

That violated city law, which limits contributions in mayoral campaigns to $1,000 per donor per election cycle. The law is designed to level the playing field for donors and avoid the appearance of corruption.

In paperwork filed with the commission, White asked for Hugh's fine to be as close to the minimum as possible, saying his client contributed to the Koreatown community by developing "numerous" real estate projects. White also said Hugh plans to help earthquake victims in Japan once his cases are resolved.

Ethics Commission enforcement director Deena Ghaly sharply disagreed, recommending that commissioners give Hugh a fine at or "very near" the maximum. Ghaly said Hugh intentionally deceived regulators and engaged in a pattern of wrongdoing, not an isolated incident.

Hugh "appears to be an accomplished person," she wrote. "However, his conduct threatens a political contribution system that relies on transparency and equal participation."

Hugh "affected the election in ways that cannot be undone," she said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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