For Immediate Release: October 2, 2023
Contact: Nancy Jackson (213) 978-1960
Pursuant to Los Angeles Administrative Code section 24.26, it has been determined that probable cause exists to believe that City Councilmember John Lee (Lee) violated governmental ethics laws by accepting gifts in excess of the gift limit, failing to report gifts, misusing his City position, and aiding and abetting another person’s misuse of a City position. Probable cause exists to believe the following facts.
Prior to being elected to the City Council, Lee was employed for many years by former Councilmember Mitchell Englander (Englander), including serving as Englander’s chief of staff. In 2016 and 2017, including during a 2017 trip to Las Vegas, Lee accepted multiple gifts from a businessperson and a developer, most of which exceeded the gift limit. Lee failed to publicly disclose those gifts on the California statement of economic interests (Form 700) that he was required to file when he left City service, and he never amended the form to disclose the gifts when he ran for Council District 12 in 2019 and 2020.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) conducted an investigation into public corruption in the City of Los Angeles. Part of the investigation included interviewing Englander and Lee. Lee assisted Englander in attempting to mislead the FBI and the USAO regarding whether Englander and Lee had made reimbursements for the gifts received during the 2017 Las Vegas trip.
In the wake of a 2020 USAO announcement of its investigation into the 2017 Las Vegas trip and a social media post revealing Lee’s involvement in the trip, the Director of Enforcement initiated an investigation and determined that an enforcement action should be commenced against Lee. A probable cause conference was conducted on August 31, 2023, and the attached accusation was served on Lee on September 26. The accusation details the laws that were allegedly violated and sets forth the acts with which Lee is charged: two counts of accepting excess gifts, three counts of failing to disclose gifts, four counts of misusing a City position, and one count of aiding and abetting the misuse of a City position.
A finding of probable cause does not constitute a finding that a violation actually occurred. The members of the Ethics Commission board must now select a hearing officer for an administrative evidentiary hearing. Following the hearing, the commissioners must determine whether the alleged violations occurred and, if so, what penalty should apply. The maximum penalty that the commissioners may levy is the greater of $5,000 per violation or three times the amount of money that was improperly received or reported.
A determination regarding whether a violation occurred may only be made by the commissioners. The commissioners and staff may not comment on a pending enforcement matter.
The Ethics Commission was created by Los Angeles voters in 1990 to impartially administer and enforce the City’s governmental ethics, campaign financing, and lobbying laws.
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