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L.A. Councilmember John Lee accused of violating ethics laws

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has accused Councilmember John Lee of violating governmental ethics laws stemming from a trip he took to Las Vegas before he was elected to the council, the agency said Monday.

The Ethics Commission conducted a probable cause conference on Aug. 31 and served Lee with a nine-page accusation on Sept. 26. The board still needs to hold an administrative evidentiary hearing. Members of the commission will determine whether the alleged violations occurred and, if so, what penalty should apply, after the hearing.

In a statement released by his office Monday night, Lee denied the allegations, saying commission investigators “drastically inflated” the amount of food and beverages he consumed on the trip.

“I refuse to be bullied by investigators that are seemingly more focused on garnering headlines than pursuing facts, evidence and the truth, even at the expense of people’s reputations,” Lee said. “For these reasons, I will vigorously fight these baseless accusations.”

The accusations stem from Lee’s time working as chief of staff for former Councilmember Mitchell Englander, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2021.

Lee allegedly accepted “multiple gifts from a businessperson and a developer, most of which exceeded the gift limit,” in 2016 and 2017, including during the 2017 trip, which played a major role in the case against Englander.

The commission also alleges that Lee assisted Englander in attempting to mislead the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office about whether Englander and Lee were reimbursed for gifts received during the trip.

Ethics Commission investigators accused Lee of two counts of accepting gifts in excess of the amounts permitted under city law, three counts of failing to properly disclose the gifts that he received, four counts of misusing his position and one counts of aiding abetting another official — Englander, his former boss — in misusing their position.

Lee left his position as Englander’s chief of staff on June 12, 2017. Nearly two weeks later, he filed his “leaving office” disclosure form, which covered the period from Jan. 1 through June 12, signing it under penalty of perjury, according to the Ethics Commission complaint. He did not report receiving any gifts during the reporting period, the agency said.

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