Monday, February 26, 2018

Ex-Mayor Accused Of Santa Monica Airport (KSMO) Conflict-Of-Interest

SANTA MONICA, CA – Santa Monica Councilman Tony Vasquez, the city's former mayor, is enmeshed in a conflict-of-interest inquiry, including in connection with a flight he once took free of charge to the Central Coast aboard a light plane belonging to a local pilot, it was reported Monday.

The flight took place as the city was contemplating the closure of Santa Monica Airport and pilot Russ Lindau, who owns a small single-engine plane saw a chance to help save the facility, the Los Angeles Times reported. He said he was asked to fly Vazquez to the Central Coast.

"I thought cool, I want to meet the mayor," Landau said. "It was a gift from a friend, a chance for me to have Tony's ear for a while and show him that pilots are good people," he said in comments reported by The Times.

On January 26, 2016, Landau hopped into his Cirrus SR22 plane with Vazquez and flew the politician late at night for more than an hour before dropping him off in Salinas, according to The Times.

Seven months later, the Santa Monica Council, including Vazquez, voted to close the airport. But with state law limiting gifts to politicians, Vazquez's free flight is raising legal questions, The Times reported. Additionally, a recent Times article detailed how his wife, Maria Leon-Vazquez, a board member overseeing Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, cast several votes approving hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with his consulting clients.

The Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office is reviewing these votes as well as architecture services provided for the couple by an architect who, around the same time, received purchase orders from the school district, The Times reported. The architect later joined the school board.

In the case of the free flight, Bob Stern, a good government expert who authored the state law governing gifts to public officials, told The Times that the free flight may pose a legal problem for Vazquez.

Charter flight websites show that the cost of a private flight from Santa Monica to Salinas could start at $1,500. The state's gift limit for public officials from any single source at the time was $460.

Vazquez also did not disclose the flight on his 2016 statement of economic interests, the financial disclosure form public officials are required to file annually, according to The Times. Santa Monica spokeswoman Debbie Lee said the city found out about the flight after Landau replied to a letter asking him not to land his plane late at night.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://patch.com

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