Anschutz Gave to Election Fund for Mayor of Carson

By AMANDA BRONSTAD
Staff Reporter

Anschutz Entertainment Group and several business partners in the development of a $112 million sports complex in Carson together contributed to the election campaign of Mayor Daryl Sweeney, indicted Nov. 21 for bribery, city records show.

The contributions, all within the law, totaled $15,000 and accounted for 7 percent of the $221,278 raised by Sweeney between January and July 2001, according to Carson campaign records.

Sweeney was elected in March 2001, and the sports complex was approved by the city council in January 2002. The Carson mayor has a seat on its city council.

In August 2001, the L.A. County District Attorney received a complaint against Sweeney for accepting campaign contributions from a "developer who was building a sports complex," according to Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's office. The developer was not identified, and the DA's office would not identify where the complaint came from.

Robison said the District Attorney's office referred the complaint to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, which would not comment about complaints it receives.

Michael Roth, an Anschutz Entertainment Group spokesman, said that all contributions were legal and that no Anschutz official has been subpoenaed as part of federal investigators' ongoing Carson investigation.

"There were several people in the community we believe should be supported for their involvement, for their platforms and for the role they were determined to play in both the business environment and the community environment," Roth said.

Roth declined to comment specifically about the recent indictments.

The other major corporate contributors, not affiliated with Anschutz, to Sweeney's 2001 campaign included Pavilion Management and a South Bay Pavilion, both at the same address, each contributed $5,000 between January 2000 and December 2001. South Bay Pavilion is a retail development in Carson. Watson Land Co., a Carson industrial developer ($5,357) and Waste Management Inc. ($5,000).

Sweeping arrests

Present and former city officials indicted Nov. 21 along with Sweeney were Carson Councilwoman Raunda Frank, former City Councilman Manuel Ontal and former Mayor Pete Fajardo.

An entity called Anschutz Southern California Sports Complex (identified as the developer of the complex) gave $2,500 to Frank.

The indictments are part of a two-year investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Attorney, and none were related to campaign contributions.

But pervasive corruption in Carson each of its last three mayors was indicted has drawn sharper focus on the way business is conducted there.

Roth said AEG's campaign contributions are a way of being involved in its community. He said company officials, through board memberships and campaign contributions, regularly get involved in the communities with which it has an interest.

In Carson, that's the sports complex, called the Home Depot Center.

Nestled on 85 acres on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills, it contains a 27,000-seat soccer stadium that will be home to the Los Angeles Galaxy (which Anschutz owns); a tennis center that will be the future home of the professional women's annual JPMorgan Chase Open (up to now held at Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach); and the training site for the San Diego Chargers.

Although AEG negotiated with the university to lease the land, the city still had to approve its environmental impact report and the proposed electronic signs to be placed off campus.

Kent Gibson, executive director of the CSU Dominguez Hills Foundation at Cal State Dominguez, said he knew nothing about the campaign contributions of AEG or its partners but praised its involvement in the community.

"They're a fine organization to work with," Gibson said of AEG. "We've got excellent relations with them, and we've got a first-class complex on our campus."

No urging

Roth said Anschutz did not request that the companies it does business contribute to Carson elected officials.

But, he added, "We would encourage our partners to become involved in the communities we invest in. If entities that do business with us choose to invest in any political campaigns here, we feel it's appropriate."

None of the contributions by entities related to Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, whose AEG developed the Staples Center and has a stake in the Lakers and Kings, exceeded $4,000.

Among the contributors to Sweeney's campaign that also participated in the sports complex's environmental impact report were:

- An entity called Flower Holdings, registered at the same address as Anschutz Corp. in Denver. It gave $3,000.

- Marlon Thompson and Dwayne Hall, principals of consulting firm Hall Thompson Associates, together gave $1,400.

- Melendrez Babalas, a landscaping company that worked on Staples Center, gave $400.

- The Mobility Group, which handles traffic studies, gave $500.

- Rosetti Architects gave $2,000.

- EMI Electra-Media Inc., which makes electronic signs, gave $4,000.

- Amy Popowitz gave $1,500. Amy Freilich, a partner at Gilchrist & Rutter PC who used to be at Brand Farrar Buxbaum LLC, confirmed that she was also known as Amy Popowitz and declined further comment. Brand Farrar was also the firm hired by the City of L.A. to negotiate the Staples Center deal. She.

Calls to Melendrez Babalas, The Mobility Group and Rosetti Architects, were not returned. EMI Electra-Media General Manager Gene Wilson said he had no knowledge of the contributions. Hall Thompson Associates could not be located.

Other contributions to Sweeney came from Majestic Realty Co., whose president Ed Roski is a part owner of the Staples Center. Majestic gave $1,000 to Sweeney.

Michael Ovitz, a founder of Creative Artists Agency and Artists Management Group, gave $1,000 to Sweeney. Ovitz had represented tennis star Pete Sampras, who earlier this year snagged a deal with Anschutz to create the Pete Sampras Tennis Academy on the Carson sports complex. Calls to Majestic Realty were not returned. Ovitz could not be reached for comment.

Community concern

AEG, which anticipates completing the complex early next year, is defending itself against a lawsuit related to the project filed in L.A. Superior Court by an activist group called Concerned Residents of Carson Committee Inc.

The suit claims that the Anschutz Southern California Sports Complex and the Board of Trustees of California State University skirted stringent requirements in the drafting of the environmental impact report and traffic studies related to the complex.

An L.A. Superior Court judge struck down the group's claims earlier this year. The committee has appealed.

"The project keeps changing; things keep getting added," said Rita Boggs, vice president of the Concerned Residents of Carson Committee and a member of the city's planning commission. "As soon as you bring more people and more cars, the traffic study becomes even more inadequate."

Roth said AEG had hundreds of public meetings with concerned residents in Carson before the complex was approved. "We learned through the Staples Center that the earlier we can address public concerns and resolve them, the earlier people can then focus entirely on the merits and very positive aspects of the entire project," he said.

Other corporate involvement

Anschutz was not the only major contributor to Carson officials in the 2001 election cycle. Waste Management shelled out a total of $19,250 to Sweeney, Frank, Ontal and Fajardo.

Federal investigators questioned Waste Management on a trash-hauling contract bid, awarded earlier this year to competitor Browning Ferris Industries. Two former BFI executives were among those indicted on Nov. 21. According to federal investigators, at the time of the contract's bidding, Waste Management turned down a request to pay bribes in return for Sweeney's vote.

Watson Land Co., a Carson industrial developer, gave a total of $18,107 to the same four city officials.

Pilar Hoyos, spokeswoman for Watson Land, said the company has regularly contributed to campaigns since the city was incorporated in 1968.

"We have 12 million square feet of office and master planned industrial centers," she said. "We felt a responsibility to be involved and support candidates we believe will contribute to the community.

"Unfortunately, as it appears now, if these allegations are proven to be true, we're terribly disappointed about what's happened. But I don't think we would have changed anything in terms of our participation."

Watson was not named in the federal investigation.

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