L.A. Ethics Commission drops probe of airport officials

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Feb. 25--A lawyer representing six current and former employees of Los Angeles World Airports said Wednesday that the city's Ethics Commission has dropped a conflict-of-interest investigation into travel to China and New England by his clients.

Attorney Terree Bowers said Ethics Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham directed her staff to close the investigation, which was examining whether the airport officials violated the law by receiving discounted trips from an association that represents dozens of international airlines that use Los Angeles International Airport.

Bowers said his clients were cleared of any impropriety regarding conferences hosted by LAXTEC, the LAX Terminal Equity Corp. Those officials "paid full value or more for their tickets and were stunned to have become respondents in an ethics inquiry," he said.

Pelham said her agency does not comment on specific investigations. But she said that when an investigation ends with no charges being filed, the Ethics Commission typically sends a letter to the target of the inquiry spelling out the findings of the agency and the justification for the conclusion reached.

"We close cases for many reasons. Sometimes it's a lack of evidence. Sometimes it's the application of the law," she said.

Bowers declined to provide a copy of the letter sent by the commission to his clients: Senior Assistant City Atty. Eduardo Angeles, property manager Ronald Domash, chief engineer Intissar Durham, purchasing and supply services manager Karen Tozer, retired airport manager Leigh Hatayama and retired airport planning chief Warren Richard Wells.

The Times reported in December that city ethics investigators were recommending that civil charges be filed against the officials. Investigators had alleged in case records that the six had violated municipal code sections that prohibit city employees from accepting more than $100 in gifts a year from a person, company or organization.

At the time of the trips, LAXTEC had three airport contracts: a lease for a VIP lounge at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, an agreement to operate ground equipment there and a $7.7-million reimbursement contract to modify gates at LAX to accommodate the giant Airbus A380.

The trips involved a weeklong cruise last year along the New England and Canadian coasts, as well as a six-day excursion in 2005 to Beijing and Shanghai.

Investigators said in case records that the airport employees received gifts worth $1,124.46 per person during the China trip and at least $434 each during the New England cruise, which included one night at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel.

Bowers also called for an investigation to determine who leaked information on the case to the media. Whoever did so should be sanctioned, he said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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