After the Los Angeles Times connected more than $600,000 in political donations to the friends, family, and associates of a single South Bay developer, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office said Monday that it will open an investigation into the suspicious campaign contributions.
The Times reports that a spokesperson for DA Jackie Lacey confirms the office is reviewing the donations—some of which were made by people who told Times reporters they had no memory of making the contribution or had never even heard of the politician they had donated to. Checks from multiple donors examined by the Times appeared to have been written in the same handwriting.
The investigation revealed that the donations lined the (metaphorical) pockets of local officials instrumental to the approval of a controversial housing development project in the industrial Harbor Gateway area.
After the Planning Commission voted unanimously not to recommend the project, the council approved it anyway, with crucial support from Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Joe Buscaino, who reps the area the development lies within. Prior to the council’s decision, both Garcetti and Buscaino, as well as members of the city’s Planning and Land Use Committee, received sizable contributions from associates of the project’s developer, Samuel Leung.
Buscaino’s predecessor, Janice Hahn, also received over $200,000 in campaign contributions while the project was going through the approval process.
Buscaino maintains that his support for the project had nothing to do with the donations he received, totaling nearly $95,000, and has pledged to return any contributions found to be fraudulent. He told Times reporters, "If I didn’t get one penny for this project, I’d still support it."
It’s not clear yet whether the City Ethics Commission will open its own investigation, because the commission evidently cannot reveal whether an investigation is taking place.