Ex-L.A. coun­cil can­di­date to pay $91,548 fine

Los Angeles Times - - THE WEATHER - By Jean Merl jean.merl@la­times.com

A former Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil can­di­date has agreed to pay a $91,548 fine for fraud­u­lently seek­ing match­ing funds from the city by claim­ing qual­i­fy­ing do­na­tions from bo­gus con­trib­u­tors, in­clud­ing at least five who were dead.

Robert L. Cole Jr., who lost the March pri­mary to suc­ceed termed-out Coun­cil­man Bernard C. Parks, had sought $61,000 in city funds but did not re­ceive the money be­cause city Ethics Com­mis­sion staffers sus­pected fraud and launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a staff re- port to the Ethics Com­mis­sion, which will de­cide whether to ap­prove the stip­u­lated agree­ment at its meet­ing Tues­day, Cole tried to qual­ify for match­ing funds for his cam­paign by claim­ing to have re­ceived $30,000 in do­na­tions from city res­i­dents. In­ves­ti­ga­tors iden­ti­fied 251 sus­pect con­tri­bu­tions and be­gan con­tact­ing those named as donors.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found more than 71% of the peo­ple they con­tacted de­nied contributing to Cole’s cam­paign. In ad­di­tion, at least five had died be­fore the date of their al­leged con­tri­bu­tion, and sev­eral bona fide donors lived out­side the city, dis­qual­i­fy­ing their con­tribu- tions from count­ing to­ward a pub­lic match.

Cole has ad­mit­ted that he had pro­vided false in­for­ma­tion; he had per­jured him­self by cer­ti­fy­ing that his claim and sup­port­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion were true. He told in­ves­ti­ga­tors a vol­un­teer had pro­vided him with false in­for­ma­tion.

The fine rec­om­mended by the com­mis­sion staff re­flects the max­i­mum penalty, ac­cord­ing to the report. Af­ter pro­vid­ing copies of his tax re­turns to prove fi­nan­cial hard­ship, Cole prob­a­bly will be al­lowed to pay in in­stall­ments, be­gin­ning with an ini­tial pay­ment of $10,000, if the com­mis­sion ac­cepts its staff ’s rec­om­men­da­tion. The re­main­ing $81,548 would be paid in monthly in­stall­ments start­ing July 15 and end­ing May 15, 2016.

Reached by tele­phone Wed­nes­day, Cole blamed an “overzeal­ous vol­un­teer who took it upon them­selves to try to help.”

“Un­for­tu­nately, I didn’t catch it, and I had to take own­er­ship of it,” even though he said he did not know what was go­ing on at the time.

Cole said the vol­un­teer, whom he de­clined to iden­tify be­cause “the city is still deal­ing with them,” had ad­mit­ted the scam to com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tors. To cover do­na­tions made by mem­bers of Cole’s fam­ily and oth­ers not liv­ing in the city, he said, the vol­un­teer used out­dated voter rolls and at­trib­uted the con­tri­bu­tions in small amounts to peo­ple on those rolls, in­clud­ing some who had died.

“I didn’t do my due dili­gence” in ver­i­fy­ing the con­tri­bu­tion in­for­ma­tion, Cole said. “I was neg­li­gent.”

Cole, 49, a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant and former pres­i­dent of the Bald­win Hills Home­own­ers Assn., sought the coun­cil district seat that ul­ti­mately was won by Com­mu­nity Coali­tion ex­ec­u­tive Mar­queece Har­ris-Daw­son. Cole said he also ran for the coun­cil in 2003.

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