By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In an office of nearly 1,000 lawyers, PID occupies only eight lawyers and nine investigators. But to keep his own ranks happy, as well as to satisfy the public desire for spectacle and showdown, Cooley is under pressure this month to produce. Key hearings are due in June in the felony money-laundering prosecution of Casden Properties vice president John Archibald, who is charged with running an illegal campaign-donation ring among subcontractors, ordering them to pay Hahn’s campaign or the anti-secession movement, then reimbursing them. Classic campaign money laundering.
O’Donnell, too, will be brought before a judge this month, and although the charges he faces are misdemeanors, they could add up to 13 years in prison. Also appearing will be the office administrator for the O’Donnell & Shaeffer law firm, Else Latinovic, and her mother, Anita Latinovich; several secretaries, including Dolores Valdez, Hilda Escobar and Linda Fraser; attorney Neil Sacker; and O’Donnell’s personal trainer, David Bernstein.
Money laundering can be hard to prove. But sources familiar with the O’Donnell matter say there is a solid paper trail, unearthed by the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the City Ethics Commission, that makes the gregarious and politically connected litigator a sure target.
Cooley rejects any notion that the Public Integrity Division pulled up the O’Donnell matter because they were desperate for an easy win.
“The Ethics Commission developed information through one of their ongoing audits and reviews and brought it to us,” Cooley said, adding that once PID got the case, it had little choice but to proceed against O’Donnell.
Cooley said O’Donnell’s lawyers tried to condition cooperation with the Ethics Commission on a guarantee of immunity from criminal prosecution, but the District Attorney’s Office wouldn’t deal. It was perhaps a lesson learned from the Casden matter, in which one subcontractor charged with conspiring to launder money, Laszlo Furdek, was dismissed because it turned out that the indictment was based on testimony he gave to the Ethics Commission under immunity.
Cooley added that although his office has developed a good relationship with the city commission, he would prefer to get referrals earlier in the process. This one was filed just days before the statute of limitations was to run out.
The case is currently in the court of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg — a former member, by the way, of the city Airport Commission.
O’Donnell’s case may yet turn out to be a component in the larger City Hall corruption probe, rather than a mere distraction.
His firm apparently has not raked in any City Hall contracts. But it is not unconnected with local-government work. Although O’Donnell is best known as a fierce litigator in entertainment and environmental matters (he represented columnist Art Buchwald in his suit over the film Coming to America, and represents L.A. Weekly columnist Nikki Finke in her lawsuit against Disney), his firm also has won at least one sole-source contract with the Air Quality Management District.
Still, there is that question of timing. A corruption probe may last longer than a basketball season, but there are limits. Action from the U.S. Attorney’s Office may just hinge on whether President Bush is re-elected in November, or is replaced by John Kerry — and a new, Democratic, federal prosecutor. To make a political splash, any indictments of commissioners or others in Hahn’s administration must come before the mayoral election the following spring. And Cooley has admitted thinking, at least, about a run for state attorney general in 2006.
For his part, Cooley insists that the prosecutions are unrelated to politics.
“These things have their own lives,” he says of the corruption probes. “We’re not result-oriented here. We’re process-oriented.”
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