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L.A. officials seek answers in alleged housing bribery case

They want to know why they were not informed of a criminal case against a housing department employee.

October 18, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

Three Los Angeles elected officials Monday called for an explanation of how a housing department employee allegedly secured bribes from multiple landlords while working the front counter at the agency's Koreatown office.

Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel sent a letter to the City Council saying it was "unacceptable" that her office had not been notified of the criminal case against Eun Chavis, details of which were reported in The Times on Sunday.

In that case, Chavis was accused of demanding tens of thousands of dollars from Korean-speaking landlords who sought to resolve problems with city inspectors or obtain construction permits.

"In order for my staff to guard taxpayer dollars, departments must be required to report any and all instances of fraud, waste and abuse so that I can closely monitor the city's resources to stop these egregious acts," wrote Greuel, who is running for mayor.

The Times reported that Chavis, 58, was charged with 11 counts of commercial bribery last year and later pleaded no contest to a single felony count. She served less than a month in jail and spent the rest of her sentence at home wearing a monitoring bracelet.

Two other elected officials — council members Ed Reyes and Jan Perry — also complained that they were not informed of the Chavis case and said they want answers.

"You would think that with something as significant as this, someone in the hierarchy of the department would have felt compelled to inform the elected officials," said Perry, who is on the council's Housing Committee.

The comments were made the day before the City Council was scheduled to vote on a proposal to require city departments to inform the controller's office of incidents involving "waste, fraud and abuse." Greuel said the case is one of several that point out the need for the council to draft a notification law.

Housing officials said Chavis was the only city employee involved in the scheme.

Police alleged that Chavis demanded $43,000 from her victims in exchange for resolving problems with their properties, according to public records.

Housing officials said they took the Chavis case seriously, first reassigning her after victims came forward and ultimately firing her. Once she was charged, the agency held a new round of ethics training and rotated some front counter employees, said Roberto Aldape, the agency's assistant general manager.

Aldape said there was no way to know whether there were additional victims because the department did not track who Chavis spoke with. In addition, Chavis' supervisor did not know what she was saying when she spoke Korean, he said.

One witness in the Chavis case was Samuel In, an employee of the Department of Building and Safety, who told police that two landlords beyond the three mentioned in the criminal charges also had complained about Chavis seeking money from them, court records show. In was under scrutiny earlier this year during a separate investigation into bribe-taking in the building department, according to a city memo.

In, who has not responded to Times requests for comment, was put on paid leave in May and retired two days later.

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