<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Politics]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC4_40x125.png NBC Southern California http://www.nbclosangeles.com en-us Thu, 17 Apr 2014 13:02:50 -0700 Thu, 17 Apr 2014 13:02:50 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Judge: Ex-Bell Official "Became a Hog"]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:38:39 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/spaccia-angela-bell-court-1.jpg

A former assistant chief administrator accused of illegally boosting her salary and those of other city officials by misappropriating millions of taxpayer dollars was sentenced Thursday in a public corruption scandal that outraged a community southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Angela Spaccia, who was charged with 13 corruption-related felony counts, was sentenced to 11 years and eight months in prison. She was ordered to pay $8.2 million in restitution.

Spaccia was convicted earlier this year on 11 counts -- including taking more than $230,000 in loans without council approval -- in what prosecutors described as a case of taxpayer betrayal. She was acquitted of one count of secretion of an official record, as it pertained to former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams' employment contract.

Spaccia was considered second-in-command to the man who became the face of the scandal in the unincorporated community of Bell, former City Manager Robert Rizzo. Spaccia's sentencing comes about three months after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges and one day after five ex-Bell council members accepted a plea deal in the case.

"It was love at first sight between the two of them," said Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett. "They never met a dollar in the city of Bell they didn't like."

The two illegally boosted their salaries -- Spaccia's annual pay went from $102,310 when she was hired in 2003 to $376,000 in 2008 -- by writing their own employment contracts.

Five former city council members -- George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, Victor Bello and George Mirabal -- were convicted at an earlier trial, but faced a re-trial on corruption charges. They faced a deadline this month to decide on the agreement, which caps their prison terms at four years.

Spaccia not only failed to perform her duty and protect the people of Bell, but she was an integral part of the scheme to boost salaries, prosecutors said.

"The residents of Bell depended and relied upon defendant Spaccia to do her job honestly and with integrity," Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett said in a sentencing memo. "Defendant Spaccia wholly abandoned her duty to the people of Bell and acted only in furtherance of her own corrupt and selfish motives."

After the trial, jurors were deadlocked 6-6 on the remaining count of misappropriation of public funds pertaining to $77,500 loan she allegedly received in 2003. Judge Kathleen Kennedy declared a mistrial on that count.

If she had been found guilty on all counts, Spaccia could have faced up to 16 years in state prison.

On Thursday, Kennedy referenced an email in which Spaccia urged Chief Adams not to get greedy. The email exchange during Adams' salary negotiations was considered a key piece of evidence during the trial.

Spaccia wrote: "...you can take your share of the pie ... just like us!!! We all will get fat together ... Bob has an expression he likes to use on occasion ... Pigs get Fat ... Hogs get slaughtered!!! So long as we're not Hogs ... all is well!!"

"Greed overtook," Kennedy said at the sentencing. "She became a hog, not a pig."

Spaccia's attorney, Harlan Braun, said he was disappointed in the outcome of the trial after the conviction. He told jurors that she was paid too much -- but she wasn't involved in criminal conduct.

But prosecutors say Rizzo stole millions of dollars from the city and Spaccia "helped him every step of the way."

Prosecutors called the salaries and retirement package figures in the tiny southeast Los Angeles County city of Bell "ridiculous sums of money." Spaccia was making a base salary of $370,000, prosecutors said. By 2010, she was earning $564,000 annually with vacation and sick pay. Rizzo was taking in more than $1 million a year, prosecutors said.

Rizzo pleaded no contest Oct. 3 to 69 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds, less than a week before their trial was set to begin. He is scheduled for sentencing April 16.

A Los Angeles Times investigation shed light on corruption in the city of Bell and the district attorney's Bureau of Investigation launched its probe in 2010. Rizzo, Spaccia and the council members were arrested and charged later that year.


<![CDATA[Ex-Bell Council Members Accept Plea Deal]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:25:37 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/203*120/104333983.jpg

Former council members accused in a city government corruption scandal in a community south of downtown Los Angeles accepted a plea deal offered by the district attorney's office.

The five former Bell City Council members are expected to have their prison terms capped at four years, according to the agreement offered earlier this year.

The former city leaders -- George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo, Victor Bello and George Mirabal -- were convicted at an earlier trial, but faced a re-trial on corruption charges. They faced a deadline this month to decide on the agreement.

The ex-council members admitted earning up to $100,000 annuall for serving on municipal boards that never met or did little work. They agreed to pay restitution to the city, but the amount has not been determined.

They were facing up to eight years in state prison if they did not accept the plea offer.

The development comes about three months after the man who became the face of the scandal pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges. Robert Rizzo, 60, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and filing a false federal income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service.

The former Bell city manager faces a maximum of eight years in federal prison, plus restitution, fines and  penalties.

Angela Spaccia, Bell's former assistant city administrator and Rizzo's  second-in-command, was convicted in state court of 11 felonies for conspiring  to misappropriate public funds and looting the working-class city's coffers  through exorbitant salaries and personal loans of taxpayer money.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Clinton "Thinking" About 2016 Run]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 08:21:33 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/04-08-2014-hillary-clinton.jpg

Will she or won’t she run? Hillary Clinton appears to be inching closer to an answer.

After months of speculation and sidestepping, Clinton tackled the big question with a maybe, telling tech innovators she is "thinking” about a 2016 run.

“I am thinking about it, but I am going to continue thinking about it for a while,” Clinton said Tuesday at a conference for marketing professionals in San Francisco.

Looking very much like a presidential candidate, former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton kicked off a series of West Coast appearances with a keynote speech addressed to several thousand people at a customer conference hosted by Marketo, a Silicon Valley maker of marketing software.

Following her speech, Clinton participated in a question-and-answer session with Marketo chief executive Phil Fernandez.

Clinton told Fernandez she’ll have to weigh some difficult questions before she decides whether to run for president in 2016.

“I’m not going to make a decision for a while because I’m actually enjoying my life,” Clinton said. “I’m actually having fun doing ordinary things like seeing my friends and going on long walks, playing with dogs.”

Back in 2011, Clinton told NBC's Today show a 2016 run for the Oval Office was not "in the realm of possibility."

Clinton’s keynote speech included comments on clean energy, the immigration debate, and education and unemployment.

“I see the small and the large changes we can make right now that will put us on the path to the kind of success that I know awaits us if, individually and together, we make the right decisions,” Clinton said.

Clinton travels to Portland Tuesday night to speak to the World Affairs Council of Oregon. Then she’ll make a stop in Las Vegas and then it’s back to the Bay Area.

Clinton, who ran for president in 2008, is widely expected to run again in 2016.

Political analysts say Clinton has been doing a great job keeping herself relevant and in the public eye since she left her post as secretary of state 14 months ago.

“Barack Obama showed that it was very effective to try and bring new voters into the system and to really target young voters, so I think that Hillary Clinton is following that same playbook,” said Melinda Jackson, associate professor of political science at San Jose State University, where Clinton will speak Thursday night.

Clinton is scheduled to appear on the SJSU campus as part of a lecture series featuring prominent women. As of Tuesday evening, StubHub had 67 tickets left to see Clinton at the 5,000-seat SJSU Events Center.

Clinton stepped down as secretary of state at the end of President Barack Obama's first term. Before that, she served as a U.S. Senator from New York from 2001-2009.

She is married to former President Bill Clinton and was first lady from 1993-2001.

San Mateo-based Marketo was founded in 2006 and produces marketing automation software. Its annual summits attract thousands of participants, with 3,500 people expected to attend this year.


Lisa Fernandez, the Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Sen. Yee, Keith Jackson Plead Not Guilty]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:36:23 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/03-26-2014-leland-yee-leaves-court.jpg

Following a federal grand jury  indictment last week, State Sen. Leland Yee and his political consultant Keith Jackson plead not guilty in federal court Tuesday morning after being charged with firearms trafficking and honest services fraud.

Yee said nothing entering the San Francisco building - his third court appearance there.  In court, he plead not guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and illegally import firearms; one count of conspiring to defraud citizens of honest services; and six counts of engaging in a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.

Also, Yee and his wife, Maxine, signed over their San Francisco home as collateral for the bond. The Yees and their attorney Jim Lassart declined to comment outside court.

Jackson, trailed by an entourage of lawyers, also declined comment. Inside court, Jackson pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder-for-hire, corruption, conspiracy and firearms trafficking charges.  Jackson is accused of having connections to a Chinatown organization that the FBI says was a front for a notorious crime syndicate. Authorities say Jackson served as a middleman between Yee and the syndicate and helped funnel cash to the politician in exchange for political influence. Jackson is free on $250,000 bond.

Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow's court appearance was delayed. He remains behind bars on charges including money laundering, unlicensed firearms dealing and conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes.

Outside court, Chow's high-profile attorney, Torry Serra, said the "government created the crime" and said the case reeks of "entrapment and racism" in regards to the FBI arrest. Chow definitely has his supporters. Someone even created "Free Shrimp Boy" T-shirts.

All three are expected to appear again in court on Friday before  U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.

The indictment follows the March 26 arrests during an elaborate FBI raid authorized by a federal criminal complaint. A total of 27 people were indicted.

NBC Bay Area's Riya Bhattacharjee and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Long Beach Voters Head to Polls]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 20:31:07 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/voting4.jpg

Voters headed to the polls Tuesday in Long Beach to cast ballots for mayor and several city council seats.

Candidates are vying to replace outgoing Mayor Bob Foster, who chose not to seek re-election.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, is considered a top  contender for the post, carrying the endorsement of Gov. Jerry Brown and the  Los Angeles County Democratic Party. But council members Robert Garcia -- who has been endorsed by Foster --  and Gerrie Schipske are also strong hopefuls.

A win by either Garcia or  Schipske would give the city its first openly gay mayor.

NBC 4 twas there as both cast their votes Tuesday morning at separate polling locations. Both stressed the importance of access to education, public safety and job growth in a city where more than 11 percent of residents are unemployed.

"Public safety (is important) because without a safe community we cannot attract jobs," said Schipske whose city council seat is one of five up for grabs.

We all want the same thing and that's a better city," said Garcia, who, if elected would also be the city's youngest mayor.

Although crime is at its lowest rate in 40 years, NBC 4 viewers said they would vote for a leader who could curb violence in the city.

"I care about the youth!" said Sheila Willis, who moved to Long Beach in 1976. "If they don't have their education...the street will eat them up!"

Also in the mix to lead the county's second-largest city are businessman  Damon Dunn, the Republican 2010 nominee for secretary of state and former NFL  and XFL player, Long Beach City College trustee Doug Otto, businessman Steven  Mozena, nonprofit executive Jana Shields, auditor Mineo Gonzalez and residents  Richard Anthony Camp and Eric Rock.

The race will likely head to a  June 3 runoff with the top two vote-getters.

Long Beach voters will also be choosing representatives in five of the  city's nine council districts, along with a city attorney, prosecutor and  auditor -- although current auditor Laura Doud is running unopposed.

Some 286,000 registered voters will cast ballots for 44 candidates during this primary, according to the city clerk's office.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Daly City Dentist Tied to State Sen. Yee Case]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 06:52:18 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/LelandYee1.jpg

The FBI says a 60-year old dentist is the man who agreed to conspire to deliver firearms with state Sen. Leland Yee, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lim, a native of the Philippines and who has a dentist office in Daly City, is said to have links to a "military captain" who could supply automatic weapons. He was one of 26 defendants named in a 137-page federal affadavit filed last week. The FBI arrested him on a conspiracy charge, alleging that he agreed to deliver weapons from the Philippine military to an undercover agent.

He is also so sick he can "barely walk" and is in severe financial straits, according to workers at the dental office interviewed by the newspaper who said he recently suffered a heart attack.

The gun-control advocate Yee is alleged to have introduced Lim to an undercover FBI agent as a "gun lover" who could find and sell automatic weapons -- to wit, "100 M-16s," the newspaper reported.

Government officials in the Philippines have opened up a probe. But experts on the Philippines say that the idea that an army captain could somehow come up with 100 assault rifles is preposterous.

"They can't even get decent boots in the military there," Professor Jay Gonzalez said.

Lim has been a supporter of Yee in the past. Also, he allegedly operated an illegal karaoke bar in Daly City that hosted illicit acts like "prostitution," the newspaper reported.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Sen. Leland Yee in Court for Bond Hearing]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 03:57:42 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/LelandYee1.jpg

California state Sen. Leland Yee appeared in federal court on Monday morning, stemming from a shocking arrest last week where FBI agents charged him with seven felonies related to firearms trafficking and promising political favors.

The hearing before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins was mostly uneventful. Attorneys discussed the terms of Yee's $500,000 unsecured bond. Yee didn't say much during the hearing, but smiled before heading off to the federal building, looking more well rested than he did when he was arrested by FBI agents on Wednesday.

Before hopping into a car, Yee casually waved to an NBC Bay Area reporter and said in a businesslike tone: "I'll see you in court." His next court apperance is scheduled for April 8.

Previously, his attorney, Paul DeMeester  told the media that Yee intends to plead not guilty to the charges.

Sen. Leland Yee's attorney, Paul DeMeester, speaking with the media after court. March 31, 2014.

Outside court, DeMeester noted to reporters that this investigation has been going on since 2011 and questioned aloud "what took three years?" He criticized the FBI agents for "pushing this idea of the arms dealing," noting that the firearm trafficking charges came late in the investigation.

NBC Bay Area broke news of Yee's arrest.

On Friday, Yee was suspended by the state Legislature; the day before, he withdrew from his bid for Secretary of State.

The 137-page federal affidavit (PDF) charges the San Francisco Democrat - a longtime vocal advocate of gun control - with conspiring to commit wire fraud and traffic firearms, and that he, along with political consultant Keith Jackson, allegedly defrauded citizens of "honest services."

Yee and 25 others, including Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow - Chinatown gang leader known as a "Dragonhead -" were caught up in a multi-year undercover FBI operation. Chow, dressed in a yellow Alameda County jail jumpsuit, also appeared in court on Monday to be appointed an attorney. Finding him one has been a challenge because the public defender's office has already defended him during previous criminal charges.

Jackson was told to return to court on Tuesday.

Despite the evidence against Yee, which to many, appeard overwhelming, some legal experts said those charges could be hard to prove. 

Legal Analyst Dean Johnson said it is not illegal for a person to give money to a politician’s campaign, expecting to influence that politician. It is also not illegal for a politician to take into account the wishes of contributors when making decisions.

But the illegal part is if there is a quid pro-quo or a tit -or-tat, a blatant exchange of money for political favors. Johnson said proving that can be tricky.

"Legally, this case is wide open," Johnson said. "These are kinds of cases that defense attorneys love because so much is open to interpretation, and everything turns on what was going on in Sen. Yee’s head. What was his intent?"

Johnson said the strength of the prosecutors case will also depend on how much video and audio evidence there is, and he said he assumes there is such evidence.

Johnson also said Yee’s attorney will likely argue the FBI entrapped Yee by setting up such an elaborate sting, with made up scenarios and crimes that, in the end, never took place.

 NBC Bay Area's Monte Francis and Vince Cestone contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Legal Expert: Leland Yee Case Far From Open and Shut]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 06:19:33 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/johnson-legal-analyst.jpg

California state Sen. Leland Yee is facing a series of charges, including conspiracy to traffic firearms, and although the evidence against him appears overwhelming, legal experts said it is far from an open and shut case.

Most of the charges have to do with public corruption, and legal experts said those charges can be hard to prove. Although Yee’s political career may well be over, the legal case against him is another matter, according to Legal Analyst Dean Johnson.

Johnson said it is not illegal for a person to give money to a politician’s campaign, expecting to influence that politician. It is also not illegal for a politician to take into account the wishes of contributors when making decisions.

But the illegal part is if there is a quid pro-quo or a tit -or-tat, a blatant exchange of money for political favors. Johnson said proving that can be tricky.

"Legally, this case is wide open," Johnson said. "These are kinds of cases that defense attorneys love because so much is open to interpretation, and everything turns on what was going on in Sen. Yee’s head. What was his intent?"

Johnson said the strength of the prosecutors case will also depend on how much video and audio evidence there is, and he said he assumes there is such evidence.

Johnson also said Yee’s attorney will likely argue the FBI entrapped Yee by setting up such an elaborate sting, with made up scenarios and crimes that, in the end, never took place.

Yee is expected to appear in federal court tomorrow to tell the judge who will be handling his defense.

A  grand jury indictment against Yee is expected by the end of the week.

<![CDATA[Calif. Lawmakers Vote to Suspend Yee, 2 Others]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 18:47:15 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/triptic_bay2.jpg

The California State Senate on Friday voted 28 to 1 to suspend embattled  Sen. Leland Yee, who was arrested by the FBI this week on firearms and public corruption charges.

The Senate also suspended Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello and Sen. Rod Wright of Inglewood - both Southern California Democrats  - who were either charged or convicted of bribery or election fraud earlier this year.

All the senators will be paid their annual base pay of  $90,526 (PDF) a year during their suspensions.

San Diego Republican Joel Anderson was the lone "no" vote. He thought the suspensions didn't go far enough.

"This amounts to nothing more than a paid holiday," Anderson said before the vote. "When you violate the public's trust, you should be expelled."

Yee's arrest came after a four-year FBI investigation and his political future is unclear at best.

Calif. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who served with Yee on the Board of Supervisors before Newsom became the mayor of San Francisco, said that it was appropriate for the senator to resign.

"It's clear that the Senate is unanimously sending a very powerful message," Newsom said. "It's the right thing to do."

Gov. Jerry Brown also called on Yee to resign after Friday's Senate vote.

"Given the extraordinary circumstances of these cases – and today’s unprecedented suspensions – the best way to restore public confidence is for these Senators to resign.” Brown said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the Yee investigation Friday, saying that she initially thought the allegations were a mistake until she read more about the case.

"It's sad, and it's sad for his family, but people of San Francisco and this area have treated him with great respect," Pelosi said. "I think out of that respect he should step aside."

Though Yee did not voluntarily resign, as senators had hoped, he did announce on Thursday through his attorney that he would withdraw his bid for Secretary of State. Attorney Paul F. DeMeester issued a statement immediately after the Senate vote saying suspension was "the right step for now" because it acknowledges the presumption of innocence.

Yee's suspension came because of a federal complaint unsealed Wednesday accusing the 65-year-old lawmaker of engaging in a conspiracy to traffic firearms without a license, illegally importing firearms and accepting campaign donations in exchange for official acts. In one instance, Yee, who has been a strong advocate for gun control during his decade in the state legislature, allegedly discussed setting an undercover agent up with an international arms dealer, warning that such business dealings are "not for the faint of heart," according to the complaint.

DeMeester said Yee plans to plead not guilty to charges of accepting more than $42,000 to influence legislation and introduce an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker.

NBC Bay Area broke news of Yee's arrest.

Yee, who represents the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County, is the third in a string of California senators to face criminal probes in the recent past. In February, Calderon was charged with allegedly accepting about $100,000 in cash bribes and other perks in exchange for his supporting or opposing bills. Calderon has pleaded not guilty.

In January, Wright was found guilty of eight felonies stemming from accusations he did not actually live in the Southern California district he represents. Wright is appealing the conviction.

Both Wright and Calderon have taken a leave of absence from the state Senate.

While Yee has captured the most headlines during the FBI's sweep this week, he was one of 26 defendants named in the federal complaint.  The main leader, or the "Dragonhead" of a known Chinese gang, according to documents, is Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, leader of the Chee Kung Tong Free Masons in San Francisco, who has served time after being being convicted of racketeering, heroin, cocaine, robbery, attempted murder, robbery and arson charges. He was released in 2003. The current federal complaint charges him with money laundering and trafficking in contraband cigarettes.

Another key player targeted during the Yee arrest is San Francisco political consultant Keith Jackson, 49, who was charged with defrauding honest services, gun and drug trafficking, and being part of a "murder for hire" conspiracy."

Both had brief court appearances on Friday in the courtroom of U.S. District Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins. Chow was told to return to court on Monday with Yee, and Jackson was told to return on Tuesday.

Yee has served in the state Legislature for more than a decade, and was elected to the state Senate in November 2006, representing District 8.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he plans to seek a constitutional amendment  that would deny pay to suspended lawmakers. The state Constitution currently says lawmakers can lose their pay only if they are expelled or resign.

The Associated Press and NBC Owned Television's Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[LA County Supervisor Candidates Meet in Debate]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 03:24:18 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/211*120/la-county-supervisor-candidate-4shot.gif

The candidates for Los Angeles County Supervisor met Thursday evening for a debate in the race to fill the seat of outgoing Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in the county's Third District.

Former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl and former Southern California mayors Bobby Shriver, John Duran and Pamela Ulich are competing for the Board of Supervisors seat after Yaroslavsky's final term.

He has represented the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles' Westside and a coastal area from Malibu to Santa Monica for two decades.

About the Candidates

John Duran: Duran has served in the city of West Hollywood -- both as mayor and council member -- since 2001. Duran, who practices law in LA County, earned a Business Administration degree from CSU Long Beach and law degree from Western State University.

"I categorize myself as a pro-business democrat, that’s one of the keys to my city’s success is being pro-business, building a local economy, so that we’re able to gather the taxes to promote some very liberal social services," John Duran said.
Sheila Kuehl: She served for eight years in the State Senate and six in the State Assembly, representing LA's Westside and parts of the San Fernando Valley. Kuehl termed-out in 2008 before becoming a Regents' Professor in Public Policy at UCLA in 2012. Kuehl graduated from Harvard Law School.

"Since my 20s, I’ve compiled a lifetime of work as a women’s right, civil rights attorney, law professor, and then of course in the assembly and in the senate, and amassed a deep and broad understanding of all the issues during that time," Sheila Kuehl said. "Healthcare, human services, the safety net, transportation, foster kids, the jails, juvenile justice, environmental protection."

Bobby Shriver: A late entry into the race, Shriver is a former mayor of Santa Monica and nephew of President John F. Kennedy. He co-founded the ONE Campaign, which organizes members to fight poverty and disease in Africa. He also was a member of the California State Park and Recreation Commission from 2001 to 2008. He graduated from Yale College and Yale Law School.

"I’m a progressive problem solver, I think that’s what people want, those are my values in my life, my daughters live here, I want to work for them, I want to work for you and I’m asking for your vote," Bobby Shriver said.

Pamela Conley Ulich: The former mayor of Malibu was born in Kansas and moved to California when she was 18. She graduated from UC San Diego and went on to serve as legal counsel for the Directors and Screen Actors guilds.

"If you want a supervisor who is fiscally conservative, is driven by family values and who will be a challenge to the system, then I am your candidate," Pamela Ulrich said.

<![CDATA[CA State Senator Arrested]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:53:39 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP588054204940.jpg

A day after he was arrested in a federal sweep, California state Sen. Leland Yee on Thursday announced through his attorney that he is withdrawing his candidacy for secretary of state.

The announcement came amidst growing calls for Yee to resign from the Senate, with everyone from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to State Sen. President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg asking him to step down.

“The allegations against Senator Yee are shocking," Feinstein said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down.”

State senators will meet in the Senate Chambers in Sacramento on Friday morning to ask Yee to resign, according to Steinberg's office.  If Yee refuses, he will be suspended, Steinberg's office said.

State Sen. Mark Leno said, after Friday's vote, Yee "will not be on the floor of the Senate ever again."

At a Thursday morning news conference in front of San Francisco's Federal Building, attorney Paul DeMeester said  Yee has not yet made a decision about whether to resign from his state Senate seat, as he is making decisions "one day at a time." Yee, who had been termed out of his position as state senator, had been one of eight candidates for the secretary of state position.

DeMeester said that Yee informed Secretary of State Debra Bowen of his decision to withdraw from the race after noon on Thursday.

"It's a very personal choice, a personal thing that he wanted to do," DeMeester said.

A federal complaint unsealed Wednesday accused the San Francisco Democrat of engaging in a conspiracy to traffic firearms and accepting campaign donations in exchange for official acts. In one instance, Yee, who has been a strong advocate for gun control during his decade in the state legislature, allegedly discussed setting an undercover agent up with an international arms dealer, warning that such business dealings are "not for the faint of heart," according to the complaint.

Yee, 65, was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, and to illegally import firearms as well as a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.

NBC Bay Area broke news of his arrest.

Yee and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, leader of the Chee Kung Tong Free Masons in San Francisco, were among 26 defendants charged in the federal criminal complaint Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said.

Yee has served in the state Legislature for more than a decade, and was elected to the State Senate in November 2006, representing District 8, which includes San Francisco and San Mateo County.

He posted a $500,000 unsecured bond and is scheduled to return to court on Monday.

Yee represents Senate District 8, which includes the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County. He declared his candidacy for secretary of state in 2012.

This is not Yee's first brush with the law. Yee was arrested in 1992 in Hawaii on suspicion of walking out of a KTA store with a bottle of Tropical Blend Tan Magnifier Oil stuffed under his shirt. The case was eventually dismissed.

He had another brush with law enforcement in 1999, when he was stopped in San Francisco's Mission District's "hooker-row area" near Capp Street. Yee denied soliciting prostitues, telling the media: "They presume that people are driving around there looking for prostitutes, but there are people who use that street to go home. They said there was somebody they thought looked like me who may have been soliciting. And I said, 'No, I was coming from work.'"

Meanwhile, the remaining candidates running for Secretary of State have reacted to Yee's arrest and alleged political corruption.

Fellow state senator and Democratic candidate Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, issued a statement calling the criminal allegations "another blow to the institution of the California State Senate."

Padilla did not comment on how the arrest and charges against Yee would affect the upcoming June primary and November election.

Secretary of State Green Party candidate David Curtis said this morning that the focus of the race has turned to "Yee's situation" and he said he wondered, "How do you get people's attention back to the other candidates?"

Curtis said for frontrunner Padilla, Yee's arrest is a double-edged sword with some voters concerned that a fellow state senator comes from the same money-grubbing "gene pool," while others are moving away from Yee and aligning with Padilla instead.

Democrat Derek Cressman was also running against Yee for Secretary of State, and said in a statement that Yee's address is a "wake-up call" and that, "We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California senate."

According to the California Secretary of State office, at this point in the election process, Yee's name cannot be removed from the ballot and he is considered an official candidate for the position.

State Sen. President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has called on Yee to resign from the senate.

He said senators would move to suspend Yee and that he is removing Yee from his committee positions.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[CA State Senator Arrested]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 16:15:19 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/03-26-2014-leland-yee-leaves-court.jpg

California state Sen. Leland Yee is facing a slew of corruption charges as part of a massive FBI sting operation that surfaced allegations of firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire and drug distribution.

A federal complaint unsealed Wednesday accuses the San Francisco Democrat of engaging in a conspiracy to traffic firearms and accepting campaign donations in exchange for official acts. In one instance, Yee, who has been a strong advocate for gun control during his decade in the state Legislature, warning that such business dealings are "not for the faint of heart," according to the complaint.

He was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, and to illegally import firearms as well as a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.

Yee and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, leader of the Chee Kung Tong Free Masons in San Francisco, were among 26 defendants charged in the federal criminal complaint Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said. 

The federal criminal complaint, filed on March 24, charges the defendants with firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes and honest services fraud, the FBI announced. According to the affidavit

If convicted on all charges, Yee could face more than 100 years in prison. His bail was set at $500,000, unsecured, with the provision that he not leave the state. He was released from custody late Wednesday afternoon.

Yee is due back in court on Monday.

Chow's charges include money laundering and conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes.

One of the places the FBI searched Wednesday was at the San Francisco Chinatown office of the Chee Kung Tong at 36 Spofford Street, where Chow, a notorious former Chinatown gangster, conducts business. Chow was arrested during the raid.

Firefighters were seen going inside with a circular saw and later said they had cracked a safe.

According to the complaint, a pattern of alleged racketeering activity emerged as FBI undercover agents infiltrated the CKT through introductions made by Chow and others.

Over the course of the undercover agent's relationship with Chow and other defendants, the complaint shows, the undercover agent informed the group that he was interested in generating income from illegal schemes. He was then inducted into CKT as a "consultant," and allegedly introduced to a number of the defendants in order to launder money, traffic narcotics, firearms and purpotedly stolen cigarettes and liquor and engage in murder-for-hire schemes over the course of multiple undercover operations.

The FBI also arrested Keith Jackson, a well-known political consultant who owns San Francisco-based political consulting firm Jackson Consultancy.

Leland Yee leaves the federal building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

State Senator Yee leaves the federal building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Chow also introduced Jackson -- a "consultant" to the CKT -- to the undercover agent. Jackson and his son Brandon Jackson allegedly responded to the undercover agent's request for weapons, selling him various types of firearms and two ballistic vests.

Jackson, Brandon Jackson and another defendant allegedly conspired on a murder for hire scheme at the undercover agent's request.

The complaint also says that Jackson is a close associate of Lee and has been involved in raising campaign funds for him from at least through May 2011 to the present.

Yee, who has served in the state Legislature for more than a decade, was elected to the State Senate in November 2006 and represents District 8, which includes San Francisco and San Mateo County. The former San Francisco supervisor and 2011 mayoral candidate is currently running for secretary of state.

The complaint alleges that starting in 2012 and continuing until now, Yee and Keith Jackson allegedly raised money and campaign funds for Yee's secretary of state campaign by soliciting donations from undercover FBI agents in exchange for multiple official acts.

The compaint also alleges that Yee and Jackson were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms.

The complaint details how, starting in May 2011 and continuing for several months, Jackson allegedly asked an undercover FBI agent to make contributions to Yee's San Francisco mayoral campaign. The agent declined to make contributions but introduced Jackson and Yee to a business associate, who was another undercover agent. When Jackson and Yee asked the agent for campaign contributions, it resulted in at least one personal $5,000 donation.

The complaint claims that Yee tried to get rid of a $70,000 debt after losing the November 2011 election by making a call to the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract with the second undercover agent's purported client and writing an official letter of support in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation.

Yee allegedly made the call on Oct. 18, 2012, and provided the letter around Jan. 13, 2013. Jackson accepted the $10,000 on Nov. 19, 2012.

Yee is known for his efforts to strengthen open records, government transparency and whistleblower protection laws.On his website, Yee promises that if elected as secretary of state, he will be "committed to fair elections and expanding access to our democracy."

He was honored last week by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional journalists for his efforts to uphold the California Public Records Act.

Chow, who ran a Chinese criminal organization and was convicted of gun charges, was released in 2003 after spending 11 years in prison. He has since been praised for his involvement in the community and for trying to turn his life around.

On what appears to be Raymond Chow's Facebook page, Chow displayed a picture of a certificate of honor presented to him by Lee that honored him "for his tenacity and willingness to give back to the community and working 'in the trenches' as a change agent."

Chow also appears to have been tweeting from the Twitter handle @RaymondChow10, using hashtags that included "sunoftheunderworld," "mafia." and "chinatown." His last tweet was on Nov. 17, which shows him at his sister's birthday, enjoying a glass of red wine.

Chow has also posted pictures of him with other notable public figures and local business owners, including former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and a picture of another certificate of recognition from state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

Yee's arrest shocked the Chinese-American community, many of whom view him as an important figure in San Francisco politics.

Officers from the California Highway Patrol and Sergeant at Arms were stationed outside Yee's state Capitol office in Sacramento Wednesday morning, where the FBI agents conducted a raid, taking computers and other documents, according to KCRA-TV.

The FBI confirmed to KCRA-TV that it had raided homes and businesses in the Bay Area and Sacramento Wednesday morning, issuing multiple search warrants and making arrests.

State Senator Yee was arrested Wednesday morning on public corruption charges. (Photo: Diane Dwyer)

Yee’s press secretary, Dan Lieberman, declined to comment when contacted by NBC Bay Area. An official statement would be released sometime Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Yee's arrest would make him the third Democratic state senator fighting charges this year.

His arrest comes just one month after prosecutors announced federal bribery and corruption charges filed against state Sen. Ron Calderon.

Prosecutors say the Los Angeles-area Democrat accepted about $100,000 in cash bribes and other perks in exchange for his supporting or opposing bills. Calderon has pleaded not guilty.

Earlier in the year, Democratic Sen. Rod Wright was found guilty of multiple charges that stemmed from accusations he did not actually live in the Southern California district he represents. Wright is appealing the conviction.

Both Wright and Calderon have taken a leave of absence from the state Senate.

Democrat Derek Cressman, who is one of several candidates also running for secretary of state, called Yee's arrest a "wake-up call."

"We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California senate," Cressman said in a statement. "The constant begging for campaign cash clearly has a corrosive effect on a person's soul and the only solution is to get big money out of our politics once and for all."

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said that he was shocked and disappointed by the news.

"Leland Yee has been a part of public service for a long time, sorry to see that tainted by these allegations," Lee said.

A man was charged last year for threatening Yee over legislation that he proposed to limit rapid reloading of assault weapons.

Yee is the first Chinese American ever elected to the California State Senate. He emigrated to San Francisco from China at age 3. Yee graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and receieved a master's degree from San Francisco State University. Yee and his wife Maxine have four children.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Voters to Decide Whether Doctors Will Undergo Drug Testing]]> Mon, 24 Mar 2014 21:25:39 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/doctor_generic_health_722x406.jpg

Families who lost loved ones to medical negligence delivered thousands of signatures on Monday for a ballot measure that would require California doctors to undergo random drug testing.

The bill, the Troy And Alana Pack Act, is sponsored by Bob Pack -- a man whose children were killed in a car crash caused by an addict who was recklessly prescribed thousands of narcotic painkillers.

Several relatives of those who died as a result of medical malpractice tearfully recalled their experience at press conference Monday while holding photographs of their lost loved ones.

Supporters of the bill also spoke at the conference to announce 830,000 signatures, including one man whose father entered a vegetative state after an alleged alcoholic cardiologist walked out mid-surgery to go to lunch.

"Nearly one in five doctors, 18 percent of doctors, have a substance abuse problem during their careers," said Jamie Court of nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog.

The signatures were enough to get the measure in front of voters, strengthening the already-intense dispute between California lawyers and doctors.

The measure would: require random drug testings of doctors; require doctors to consult a database to make sure their patient isn't abusing prescription drugs before prescribing them to that patient; and lift the limit of $250,000 in "pain and suffering" damages in medical malpractice awards.

"If you lose a child because of medical negligence, the law says that child's life is worth $250,000," said Brian Kapitack of the Consumer Attorneys of California.

Doctors and hospitals, along with groups such as Planned Parenthood, are opposed to the bill and claim it is unnecessary, costly and badly timed with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

"This measure is really about just increasing trial lawyers fees," said Jason Kinney of the Protect Access Coalition.

Despite efforts by opposing groups to reach a compromise, California voters will have the final say when the measure appears on the ballot this November.

<![CDATA[Mayor Orders Halt to "Flawed" LAFD Recruitment]]> Fri, 21 Mar 2014 03:56:38 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/garcetti4.JPG

Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered a halt Thursday to what he described as the Los Angeles Fire Department's "fatally flawed" recruitment process.

The move is part of Garcetti's ongoing reform effort and means the next scheduled LAFD class of 70 eligible cadets will expire. A new recruitment process won't begin until after a process review by the RAND Corporation.

"I have determined that the fire department's recruiting process is fatally flawed," Garcetti said in a statement. "Reforming the fire department is a key part of my back to basics agenda, and the integrity of its recruiting process is vital to ensuring the department responds quickly, is technologically advanced, and reflects the city it serves in the future. Our firefighters perform heroically every day, and I want to make sure that the next generation of firefighters upholds the levels excellence practiced by today's firefighters."

The move disappointed members of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, the union that represents firefighters.

"It has been stated over and over again that restoration is the top priority for the fire department and staffing shortages should be the number one concern for our severely decimated department," said Frank Lima, the president of UFLAC, in a statement. "No new firefighters have been hired in over five years. A scarcity of personnel not only puts firefighter and public safety at risk, but it hurts the city's fiscal health as well."

Lima said firefighters are being forced to work overtime to make up for the staffing deficit. In the first two and a half months of 2014, 12 civilians have died in fire-related fatalities, he said. The city is on pace to set record levels of fire related deaths, Lima added.

"We have hit a tipping point where it just didn't make sense to continue to pay so much overtime without hiring new workers," he said. "It doesn't make financial sense and it's not safe."

Garcetti made the decision after it was revealed that department staff organized special recruiting workshops for "LAFD insiders," according to the statement from the mayor's office. At least two interview and resume preparation workshops were organized by a member of the LAFD, according to a statement from the department's interim Fire Chief James Featherstone.

"These workshops were advertised via LAFD email and were intended to be limited to members of the LAFD Cadet Program and family of LAFD members," Feathersone said. "While these actions may have been conceived in good faith, the result was a recruiting and hiring process that was less than fair and impartial."

The review of the recruitment process by Garcetti's office found classes with a "disproportionate amount of recruits" who were related to LAFD staff, some to senior managers who oversaw the recruitment and training process. Garcetti also cited a one-minute window allowed for filing paperwork that was part of the recruitment process.

The RAND Corporation -- a nonprofit institution that researches and analyzes policy making -- will make recommendations designed to reform the process. The LAFD also started an internal investigation.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[CA Faces "Serious Threat" From Transnational Crime]]> Thu, 20 Mar 2014 21:38:50 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/198*120/kamala-harris-organized-crime.jpg

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Thursday released a report on transnational organized crime organizations and what she called a "serious threat" to a state with the wealth, innovation and location that such groups target.

Harris discussed the report, Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Organized Crime, at a mid-day news conference. Crimes addressed in the report include drug, weapons and human trafficking, money laundering and tech crimes -- the "three emerging pillars" of transnational criminal groups.

"California is uniquely impacted," Harris said. "We're an attractive target because of our location, our size and because we play a central role in the digital economy."

"We can look at this issue of technology. It's created right here in our back yard. There are people who focus on California and California consumers."

The report comes a week before Harris joins other state attorneys general for meetings with officials in Mexico about what she describes as a "serious threat to California." The officials plan to discuss how they can work together to coordinate prosecutions of transnational crimes and share information.

During Thursday's news conference, Harris said the report points out that transnational crime organizations traffic more guns and drugs in and out of California than any other state. Mexico-based organizations traffic 70 percent of methamphetamine that enters the United States through San Diego, according to the report.

"Sometimes, they'll bring to raw materials to California and set up shop here, then produce it here and sell it all over the country," Harris said, adding that the raw materials are less expensive to obtain in Mexico.

California also remains a top destination for human trafficking, Harris said. In many cases, the criminal organizations are using the same routes for human trafficking as they do for drugs and guns, according to the report.

The report offered several recommendations, including a unified task force to combat smuggling operations off California's coast and funding for five additional special operations units in California.

NECN]]> <![CDATA[Scott Brown Readies N.H. Senate Run]]> Fri, 14 Mar 2014 15:15:09 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP19064830984.jpg

Former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts officially announced Friday he has formed an exploratory committee for a bid in New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race this year.

However, the Republican did not officially say he will run against the state's Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, NECN reported.

Brown blasted Obamacare Friday, and also talked about what his party needs to be doing to move forward.

Brown said he is looking forward to meeting people in New Hampshire as he starts traveling around the state starting Saturday.

"Obviously I have to do some listening and learning and find out from everybody what their concerns are and make sure I have a full understanding of the challenges, and then I'll make a further decision down the road," Brown told reporters after the speech.

There are already other Republicans in the U.S. Senate race, but analysts agree that Brown would immediately be the frontrunner if he officially ran against Shaheen.

Democrats in the Granite State have been preparing for months now for Brown's announcement.

Earlier Friday, Fox News cut its ties with Brown when he notified them of his intentions.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Task Force to Fight Battery Plant Pollution]]> Tue, 11 Mar 2014 21:32:47 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/195*120/01-edixe.JPG

A task force has been set up to study closing a battery recycling plant in Vernon that recently tested for elevated levels of lead.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who championed the task force, said state regulatory agencies were not doing enough.

"Hopefully we can encourage the state to give us the authority necessary to go into some of these areas that threaten neighboring communities,'' Molina said.

Exide, which recycles up to 41,000 batteries a day, has been cited for lead and arsenic pollution and was temporarily closed in April.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District imposed stricter emissions guidelines targeting the plant in January.

John Hogarth, manager of Exide's plant, said the facility has cut arsenic emissions and has spent $20 million on upgrades since 2010.

"It's hard for anybody to say if that lead belongs to Exide," Hogarth said.

The news comes as officials from the Department of Toxic Substances Control found elevated levels of lead in soil taken from 39 residential lots near the plant and called for expanded testing.

While authorities said there did not appear to be an immediate severe risk to adults in the area, they took precautions.

"We do need the governor to be pushing the (Department of Toxic Substances Control) because it is failing in its job to protect the public from toxic harm, " consumer watchdog Liza Tucker said.

One school in the area only allows children to play on asphalt.

"It kind of put me at ease," said parent Ashley Nunez. "But it's still kind of scary."

The firm at 2700 S. Indiana St. is one of only two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies and has been operating since 1922.

The Department of Public Health will lead the task force. It will report back in 90 days with recommendations on ways to close the Exide plant.

The group also was asked to identify the communities most at risk from various industrial hazards. The board's vote to establish the task force was unanimous.

City News Service contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Officials Crack Down on Hundreds of Pot Shops]]> Mon, 10 Mar 2014 18:54:16 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/6d1e27321249485c976dbb0db6d138be.jpg

Hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries continue to operate in Los Angeles even after a voter-approved measure limiting the number of businesses allowed in the city went into effect last summer, officials said Monday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and police Chief Charlie Beck said real estate agents and property owners will have help in complying with the new regulations.

Only about 130 dispensaries were exempt from banishment under Proposition D, which also increases taxes on the businesses and sets rules about their hours and distances from schools and parks.

The city was home to about 1,000 dispensaries just a few years ago.

Since the pot shop ban took effect in July, Feuer said he has filed hundreds of cases against business and property owners.

“We've been prosecuting hundreds of dispensary owners, operators, managers and others -- nearly 300 such individuals have been the subject of our criminal prosecution so far,'' he said.

Feuer said brochures will be passed out to real estate brokers so they, and the businesses and owners they are representing, are aware of the new regulations.

Beck said that all of LAPD’s 165 senior lead officers will be trained in the new law.

City News Service contributed to this report. 

<![CDATA[Feds: DC Mayor Got Illegal Funds]]> Wed, 12 Mar 2014 12:45:57 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/20140310+Jeffrey+Thompson.jpg

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray knew that his 2010 campaign received money donated illegally by a businessman with multimillion-dollar city contracts, and even asked personally for the funds, federal prosecutors alleged in court Monday.

Businessman Jeffrey Thompson, 58, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to violate D.C. and federal campaign finance laws by funneling more than $3.3 million in unreported donations to at least 28 local and national candidates and their campaigns beginning in 2006.

The candidates who benefitted from the illegal donations are not named in the court filings. However, in court, prosecutors confirmed that Gray was the person called "Mayoral Candidate A" who met with Thompson to discuss the fundraising, presented Thompson with a $425,000 "one-page budget" -- and agreed to keep the fundraising secret by referring to Thompson with the code name "Uncle Earl."

Gray also asked Thompson to pay $40,000 for improvements to a friend's home, prosecutors said. In court, Thompson acknowledged giving $40,000 to a close friend of Gray and $10,000 to a relative of Gray.

In total, Thompson -- whose company had a contract worth $300 million a year with the city -- funneled $668,800 to "a political candidate for Mayor," the charging documents say. Those documents also claim that the unreported donation was made "in coordination with" the candidate.

Gray refuted the claims in an interview and said he was innocent. “I maintain these are lies,” Gray told News4’s Tom Sherwood Monday afternoon. “These are absolute lies.”

Gray attended a mayoral forum Monday evening, just hours after the allegations surfaced. His supporters were in full force, chanting, 'Four more years!' Gray again told News4 the allegations are untrue. 

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said in a press conference late Monday that more charges may be forthcoming as Thompson continues to help investigators. Many other candidates were implicated in Thompson's plea agreement, including a candidate for mayor in 2006, a candidate for D.C. Council At Large in 2008 and a candidate for Ward 4 council in 2007.

Also connected: candidates for Congress and a candidate for president in 2008, prosecutors said in court filings. The presidential candidate is believed to be Hillary Clinton, who has said she did not know of the fundraising and has cooperated with the investigation.

“Election after election, Jeff Thompson huddled behind closed doors with corrupt candidates, political operatives, and businessmen, devising schemes to funnel millions of dollars of corporate money into local and federal elections,” Machen said. “Today's guilty plea pulls back the curtain on years of widespread corruption. With Mr. Thompson's cooperation, we have the opportunity to hold many wrongdoers accountable and to usher in a new era of honesty, integrity, and transparency in D.C. politics.”

Gray is running for re-election campaign in D.C.'s April 1 Democratic primary for mayor; early voting starts next week. 


Thompson was charged with two felony counts of conspiracy in a criminal information filed Monday morning. He appeared in court Monday afternoon, where a judge said he faces two years in prison. If he complies fully with the terms of the plea deal, one count carrying an 18-month sentence could be dropped and he could serve a total of six months on the second count.

The sentence also could be reduced to home confinement.

Court documents allege Thompson solicited relatives, friends, employees and others to make donations to candidates and assured them he would reimburse them for these "conduit contributions" -- which he did with personal money and money from his company. On his company's books, the payments were listed as "advances" and "bonuses," prosecutors said.

Thompson's company also paid for in-kind gifts to candidates, which prosecutors called "shadow campaigns" in a detailed statement of the case against him. That included $653,000 in money for "Mayoral Campaign A" and $608,750 to the candidate for president.

The document also allege "Candidate A" met with Thompson in June 2010, when the candidate promised to use the code name, "Uncle Earl."

Gray told News4 he agreed to that because Thompson was worried then Mayor Adrian Fenty would find out Thompson was supporting Gray and interfere with Thompson's companies' contracts with the city.

“Initially he said no, that he wouldn’t raise money for the campaign,” Gray said. “He was fearful of what would happen to him because of the Fenty administration.”

“With respect to him raising money for my campaign, I thought that was being done in a perfectly legitimate fashion,” Gray said. “I’ve said that from day one and I maintain that, to my knowledge anyway, it was a perfectly legitimate experience.”


A big player in both local and federal politics, Thompson owned multiple million-dollar companies with large contracts from the city. That included the most lucrative contract the city gives out, worth more than $300 million each year for Thompson's company D.C. Chartered Health Plan, to provide health care services to the city's poorest residents.

Thompson stepped down from D.C. Chartered Health Plan in April 2012, after FBI and IRS agents raided his home and office. He then left his accounting firm, Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, in July 2012.

The investigation that led to his guilty pleas began in spring 2011, after Gray was elected. U.S. Attorney Machen began looking into whether Gray or his campaign aides secretly gave cash and checks to Sulaimon Brown, a minor candidate for mayor, in return for Brown's aggressive attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Brown contended the campaign did pay him and also rewarded him with a $110,000-a-year city job, from which he was later fired for inappropriate conduct.

Since those allegations caught Machen's attention, nine people with ties either to Thompson or to Gray's 2010 campaign -- including Thompson himself -- have pleaded guilty to various charges over the course of the investigation.

Two Gray campaign supporters, Howard Brooks and Thomas Gore, pleaded guilty to covering up the payments to Brown.

In July 2012, Jeanne Clark Harris, a long-time supporter of Gray and business partner of Thompson, pleaded guilty to funneling more than $650,000 from Thompson to a shadow campaign for Gray. "The 2010 mayoral election was corrupted by a massive infusion of cash that was illegally concealed from the voters in the District," Machen said at that time.

Not long after, three business associates of Thompson's -- Troy White, Lee Calhoun and Stanley L. Straughter -- pleaded guilty to helping Thompson illegally fund national campaigns, including Clinton's.

Last August, Vernon Hawkins, a longtime associate of both Thompson and Gray, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about the shadow campaign. During Hawkins' plea hearing, Gray's name was mentioned for the first time as the beneficiary of the shadow campaign.

In addition, former D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown has admitted to taking money from Thompson. Brown has admitted to taking about $120,000 in secret, illegal campaign donations in 2007 and 2008 in conjunction with Harris and a businessman only identified as "Co-Conspirator 1." Media reports have identified "Co-Conspirator 1" as Thompson.

Though the investigation has continued for three years, Gray remains a front-runner in the race for mayor. A poll for NBC4, WAMU, the Washington Informer and Marist released in February shows Gray leading the race.



<![CDATA[OC Tries for "Drought-Proof" Desalination Plant]]> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 22:18:57 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/ocean9.jpg

The once-thought concept of removing salt from seawater is new again as the search intensifies in California for drought-proof sources of water.

In Carlsbad, a large scale desalination factory is within two years of delivering 50 million gallons of drinking quality tap water from the ocean every day, according to the plant's developer.

One county to the north, the Orange County Water District is considering committing financial backing and a long-term water purchase agreement to enable a sister plant to be built in Huntington Beach, though the project is not without opposition and has yet to obtain a final permit from the California Coastal Commission.

Environmental challenges have been raised on a number of issues. But the biggest hurdles for desalination is its premium price, the expense both of building plants, and of the enormous amounts of energy required to run them.

A desalination plant built two decades ago in Santa Barbara remains an unused white elephant -- partially dismantled -- because the city found cheaper sources of water.

Behind both the Carlsbad and Huntington Beach projects is Boston-based Poseidon Water. Both have similar designs, and would draw in ocean water through the existing intake systems for the cooling systems of nearby power plants.

That design was approved for Carlsbad. But for Huntington Beach, the Coastal Commission cited concerns for fish larvae being sucked into the plant and instructed Poseidon to submerge the inlet or find another alternative to protect the larvae.  

"We want better technology," said Ray Hiemstra of Orange County Coastkeeper.

That likely would further raise the cost of a plant already projected at close to a billion dollars.

Before proceeding in Carlsbad, Poseidon reached an agreement with the San Diego County Water Authority to back a majority of the financing, and to purchase water for 30 years.

At full capacity, the Carslbad plant would provide 7 percent of San Diego County's current water needs. But its price premium compared to imported water is projected to push up the typical home's water bill by $5 to $7 a month, according to the San Diego Water Authority.

"It does cost more to desalinate water," said Peter MacLaggan, Poseidon senior vice president for project development. "But the incremental cost for that bucket of water is a tremendous insurance policy. It will always be there."

The drought has dramatically reduced the availability of surface water imported from the Colorado River and from the State Water Project that draws on snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada in Northern California.

Poseidon and the San Diego Water Authority believe the cost gap will narrow and eventually cross in the middle of the next decade.

Water from the Huntington Beach plant is projected to cost the OC Water District about 50 percent more than the current cost for state water project water, according to Shawn Dewane, president of the Orange County Water Authority board.

Taking off his Coastkeeper hat for a moment and speaking as a Huntington Beach resident, Heimstra observed:  "As a rate-payer, I'm very concerned about an increase in my rates." 




Dewane is hopeful technology breakthroughs will lower the amount of energy required for desalination and bring down the cost.

Importing water to Southern California from the state water project also requires enormous amounts of energy to pump the water over the Tehachapi Mountains.

But it takes less energy to raise an 8-pound gallon of water nearly 3,000 feet than it does to maintain the 1,000 pounds per square inch of pressure required to push two gallons of water through the filtration membranes used in the reverse osmosis process to desalinate a gallon of water.

"This is not the right place nor the right time to build this in Huntington Beach," said Merle Moshiri, president of Residents for Responsible Desalination (R4RD), one of several advocacy groups opposing the proposed plant.

"They haven't exhausted all the options," said Joe Geever, who oversees water policy issues for the Surfrider Foundation.

Interestingly enough, the desalination foes of the OC Water District praise its efforts to expand recycling of sewage water. It is purified using a process almost identical to that for desalination, though much less expensive because the reverse osmosis phase does not require as high a pressure.

The OC Water District currently recycles 70 million gallons a day, and plans to expand that to 100 million gallons a day, twice the capacity of the proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant.

But rather than going directly to the tap, most of the recycled water is injected into the ground to replenish the underground aquifer that supplies much of the county's drinking water. The rest of the recycled water goes to landscape irrigation, and can also be used for industrial applications.

With the next expansion, the OC Water District expects to recycle about 60 percent of the county's water. But making headway on the remaining 40 percent will be more difficult, Dewane said, because it contains contaminants that cannot be removed by the district's treatment system.

In recent decades, some two dozen desalination projects have been proposed up and down the California coast. But few are moving forward, and all are watching the course of events in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach.

When it comes to staking out a new frontier, it can be easier "to move second," observed Dewane. .

Photo Credit: NBC10.com]]>
<![CDATA[Israeli Prime Minister in Silicon Valley]]> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 17:32:11 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/03-05-2014-netanyahu-brown.jpg

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a swing through the Silicon Valley to meet with high-tech leaders and sign a pro-business agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown.

During a meeting at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, the two emphasized their joint interests in cybersecurity, energy sources and water conservation, and suggested Israel -- an arid country with a growing population -- might be able to help California cope with its ongoing drought.

"California doesn't need to have a water problem,'' Netanyahu said. "Israel has no water problems because we are the number one recyclers of waste water, we stop water leaks, we use drip irrigation and desalination.''

Brown said he would welcome their ideas.

"Israel has demonstrated how efficient a country can be, and there is a great opportunity for collaboration,'' Brown said.

Wednesday's visit follows Netanyahu's meetings with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., on Monday and his appearance Tuesday at the Los Angeles premiere of a television documentary that features him.

This is the first California visit from an Israeli prime minister since 2006, and Netanyahu planned stops at Stanford University, Apple Inc. in Cupertino, as well as a meeting with WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant who sold his company to Facebook Inc. for $19 billion last month.

The agreement the leaders signed follows on several decades of commitments from California and Israel to promote trade, research and economic development.

"The best brains in the world are in Silicon Valley and Silicon Wadi,'' said Netanyahu, referring to Israel's tech startup region. And he asked Brown to help get direct flights between San Francisco and Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu also took a moment to talk about the reporters Wednesday of an interception of an Iranian arms shipment to the terrorists in Gaza.

He said the shipment would "rain death and destruction on Israeli civilians and our cities.''

"What this reveals is the true face of Iran,'' he said. "This regime must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons capability.''

He thanked Brown for divesting California's pensions from Iran.

There are hundreds of Israeli firms working in partnership with California companies, and in Silicon Valley ties are particularly tight, with more than 150 Israeli startups based there, according to the consulate general of Israel in Los Angeles. In addition, the California Israel Chamber of Commerce has partnered with Facebook, Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp., eBay Inc.'s PayPal and others.

Joint Venture Silicon Valley President Russell Hancock said Silicon Valley has become a mandatory stop for state visitors; this year both the French and Haitian prime ministers have toured tech giants in the region. And he said the region has many interests in common with Israel.

"Israel is particularly strong in cyber-security, which makes sense given their strong military orientation, use of unmanned air vehicles, and their national security vulnerabilities,'' he said. "Security is also a valley strength, and destined to be a big growth area for us, so it's natural for there to be some convergence between us.''

On Tuesday night, Netanyahu attended the premiere in Los Angeles of "Israel: Royal Tour,'' the latest in a PBS series where heads of state give tours of their nations.

"Am I at the Oscars?'' Netanyahu joked, drawing a laugh as he spoke at Paramount Pictures' studio to a group of several hundred local dignitaries and philanthropists.

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan]]>
<![CDATA[Hillary Clinton Calls Putin "Tough Guy With Thin Skin"]]> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 22:34:16 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP816441808335.jpg

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton continued to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin during her two-day Southern California visit  by calling him a "tough guy with thin skin" in a talk Wednesday at UCLA.

Clinton delivered the third annual Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership at UCLA's Royce Hall at noon. She participated in a question-answer session following the speech with UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck.

Past lectures have been delivered by her husband, former President Bill Clinton and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. She also will accept the UCLA Medal, given to people whose works "illustrate the highest ideals of UCLA, and whose career has manifestly benefited the public," according to the university.

It was the second day in a row that Clinton took aim at Russia's involvement in Ukraine.

"I know we are dealing with a tough guy with a thin skin," Clinton told the crowd at UCLA's Royce Hall, citing her experiences with Putin during her time at the State Department. "I know that his political vision is of a greater Russia. I said when I was still secretary that his goal is to re-Sovietize Russia’s periphery, but in the process he is squandering the potential of such a great nation, the nation of Russia, and threatening instability and even the peace of Europe."

Clinton began her two-day visit to Southern California Tuesday by speaking at a $1,500-per-person luncheon fundraiser in Long Beach benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach. She discussed Russia's military advance into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and compared recent actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin to those implemented by Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s.

The Russian president's desire to protect minority Russians in Ukraine is reminiscent of Hitler's actions to  protect ethnic Germans outside Germany, she said, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Putin contends ethnic Russians in Ukraine need to be protected. Clinton said that's what Hitler did when he maintained ethnic Germans outside Germany in places such as Czechoslovakia and Romania were not being treated properly and needed to be protected, the newspaper reported.

"Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 30s," Clinton said, according to the report. "All the Germans that were... the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying, 'They're not being treated right. I must go and protect my people.' And that's what's gotten everybody so nervous."

The newspaper quoted Clinton as saying Putin is a man "who believes his mission is to restore Russian greatness."

"When he looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is by its very nature part of Mother Russia," she said at the private event.

Clinton stressed Wednesday that she was not making a comparison between Putin and Hitler.

"What I said yesterday was that the claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect the Russian minorities -- that is reminiscent of claims that were made in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere throughout Europe," Clinton said Wednesday. "I just want everybody to have a little historic perspective. I am not making a comparison, certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before."

Clinton answered questions on a variety of subjects Tuesday, including her favorite flavor of Girl Scout cookie.

Her answer -- peanut butter.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mexico City "Eco-Bici" Inspires Alternate Transportation]]> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 22:40:00 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/N6PPKGMEXICOECOBICIweb_1200x675_182593091537.jpg

It’s called "Eco-bici", as in “economical bicycle.”

It’s a cheap way to get from point A to B but nope, you can’t find it in Los Angeles, at least not yet.

Some 2,000 miles to the south, in a city similar in square miles, but three times the population of LA, the eco-bici is thriving in Mexico City.

Barbara Santillan, a Mexico City resident, says she is grateful for the time she saves on her commute and out of traffic.

“Yeah, I mean the bicycle you make like 20 into 10 minutes," she says. "And I use it every day."

Bikes can be rented via a mobile app for 400 Mexican pesos a year or a mere $30 dollars for unlimited use.

Stations located throughout the city, especially in the financial and business districts of Mexico are growing in popularity especially when compared against other forms of transportation. A subway ride costs 5 pesos (38 cents) but riders say the bike is still a bargain and it’s better for the environment.

"You don't have a parking problem with it, plus, you don't pollute," said Violeta Hernandez, a Mexico City resident.

While the program is still growing in Mexico, some citizens say Los Angeles could learn from Mexico’s program.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is traveling in Mexico this week, says the program could work in Los Angeles.

LA County’s Bike Coalition’s Planning and Policy Director Eric Bruins agrees with the Mayor but says the program would require help from the city’s transportation department.

“In LA County, there are 88 cities each with different rules about placing stations in the public right of way and about advertising," he said. "We see a strong role for our county's transportation agency, Metro, in creating a framework that will work for a majority of our cities."

The plans for a bike-sharing program in LA would focus on a single system that would cover multiple parts of the region, starting in downtown LA, Santa Monica and Pasadena.

LA City Councilman Mike Bonin says the program solves a major public transportation issue for the city.

“It is an important way we can complement our regional transportation system and improve traffic by getting people out of their cars," he said in a statement. "A bike share program will help get people who want to take the train or bus to and from stations, solving the 'first-and-last mile' issue that has been a major challenge for public transportation in Los Angeles.”

Bonin cautions that multiple bike share memberships could be cumbersome and confusing, thus a regional membership would offer the best solution.

Other objections to a bike share program in Los Angeles stem from the anticipated high cost of membership.

Lower income people also often don’t have the credit card needed to purchase a membership, even if they had the financial means.

Tony Dang, the deputy director of California Walks, says there are other models the city of Los Angeles can look to for insipration.

"New York's system was completely financed as a public-private partnership with CitiBank committing to being the primary sponsor through a $41 million, 5-year contract," he said. "CitiBank funded the purchase of bikes, bike stations, and installation costs."

In exchange, he added, Citibank MasterCard was an additional sponsor at $6.5 million in exchange for operating the payment processing for the system.

These sponsorships covered the rollout costs, and operations costs are funded through bike share memberships, he said.

Dang also points to Boston where the bike share system worked with the public health department to subsidize membership for low income individuals.

Metro, the lead agency which covers many of the municipalities in Los Angeles County, is working with cities and other organizations throughout Los Angeles to create a phased bike sharing program. Metro staff is developing a business model and recommendations for financial commitments to support the program.

A program update to the board is scheduled for April.

<![CDATA[Partial Ban Approved on E-Cigarettes in LA]]> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 21:54:08 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/457925695.jpg

An ordinance that would ban the use of e-cigarettes from bars, nightclubs, restaurants and some other public places was approved by the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday after a debate that cited several studies and ended with some members expressing reservations about the proposal.

The ban, which went before the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee in February, passed a full council vote on Tuesday afternoon.

WATCH: After Regulations Imposted, LA Could Wholly Ban Use of E-Cigarettes

The hearing Tuesday morning at City Hall included statements from Dr. Jonathan Fielding, head of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, who supports the restrictions. He was one of several speakers who cautioned the council regarding e-cigarette use among young people.

"Some brands have candy flavoring such as chocolate, fruit and gummy bears, which appeal to children," Fielding said.

The ordinance also bans the use of e-cigarettes in public places such as beaches, restaurants and parks. Councilmember Joe Buscaino proposed an amendment during discussion that would exempt bars from the ban, but that exemption was defeated.

Buscaino argued that although he supports keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors, the ban at bars would conflict with the rights of adults in a space where adults -- not children -- typically gather. 

The ordinance would not affect affect vaping lounges or stores, which as of late have been raking in big business. E-cigarettes would also still be allowed for "theatrical purposes.

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E-cigarette user Mark Burton, who was also on at the February meeting, cited a Drexel University study. The research "found that contaminate levels of the vapor, if you will, were far below what would be considered harmful," he said.

E-cigarettes, which have become wildly popular across the country and face similar contention in cities such as New York, use battery-powered metal cartridges to simulate the effect of smoking.

The cartridges heat liquid that contains small amounts of nicotine and additive flavors and turns it into vapor. Some council members expressed reservations about approving the ordinance because of studies presented that showed varying results regarding the effects of e-cigarettes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and  smokeless tobacco. Only e-cigarettes marketed for therapeutic purposes are regulated by the agency.

"I'm struggling with this because I want to make sure we are solving a problem based on actual facts and justification," said Councilmember Paul Krekorian. "There are a variety of different views on the impact of what that second-hand vapor may be.

"There's a well-developed body of evidence on smoking. But, from everything I've heard, I don't think a case has been made that adult exposure should be something that this council acts on absent regulation by one of these agencies... equipped to make those difficult assessments."

READ: LA Cracks Down on "Addictive" E-Cigarettes

In an opinion piece published in February on a California business and politics blog, former president and CEO of the American Lung Association Charles D. Connor wrote that the proposed restrictions of smoking in public places made sense for traditional tobacco products -- but not for e-cigarettes.

"This proposal is misguided because it would do a public health disservice, discouraging smokers from switching to less-harmful electronic cigarettes that do not combust tobacco and therefore, do not create second-hand smoke," he wrote.

Other detractors of the bill have underlined that the proposed ban might encourage former smokers to revisit their habit.

The City Council has already begun regulating e-cigarettes. In late 2013, the council unanimously approved a measure that regulated the sale of e-cigarettes, which prohibited those under 18 from using them.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Surprises, Runoffs Likely in Texas Primary]]> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 10:08:07 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Vote+Generic+Vote+Tuesday+Voting+Sign.jpg

Gov. Rick Perry isn't on the ballot, but a new member of the Bush dynasty is. Wendy Davis can clinch a feat no woman has achieved in Texas since Ann Richards. Heavyweight Republicans are trying to survive, and a new voter ID law gets a major test.

Throw in a March blast of winter weather that could dampen turnout, and Texas' primary elections Tuesday figure to be anything but ordinary.

The results will begin the biggest reshuffling of state power in a decade. Although most of the competitive primary races are on the Republican side, Davis' bid for governor headlines a roster of underdog Democrats girding instead for the Nov. 4.

That's the only day that matters to Davis and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in the year's marquee showdown. Neither has a competitive primary, leaving Davis poised to become the first female gubernatorial nominee in Texas since Richards in 1994, and Abbott the first new GOP nominee after 14 years of Perry.

But a frigid forecast could leave voters with a dangerous -- or at least dreary -- drive to the polls. Meteorologist say freezing rain overnight Tuesday could sock Central Texas, the Houston area should be wary of elevated roads and a biting cold will be felt most everywhere.

"It doesn't take much when you're not used to winter weather," National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh said.

Unlike Davis and Abbott, few other Texas candidates have the luxury of uneventful primaries.

The conservative star power of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has GOP candidates -- from local races to statewide offices -- jostling farther right and wooing voters with vows to emulate Cruz's no-compromise style. Even U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, two of the state's most powerful Republicans, have spent money campaigning against longshot challengers who say the incumbents have grown moderate in Washington.

But changes are far more likely in Austin. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who lost to Cruz for the Senate seat in 2012, appears headed for his first runoff in 11 years on the job.

Millions of dollars have been spent between Dewhurst and three prominent challengers: state Sen. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. The race has been the nastiest and most competitive this primary season, with the four all taking aim at President Barack Obama in television ads when they're not sniping at each other.

Primary runoffs are set for May 27. Settling GOP nominations for attorney general, comptroller and agriculture commissioner may also have to wait until then.

"When there's a fair amount of negative out there it makes the electorate very unpredictable," Patterson said Monday. "You couldn't accurately poll it -- or you could and that poll would be good for probably about four hours."

Noticeably absent this primary season has been Perry, who announced last summer he wouldn't seek re-election but continues mulling a 2016 run for president. The longest-serving governor in Texas history hasn't endorsed in major races or even heard his name mentioned much in campaigns by his fellow Republicans.

They've instead talked about the future of the Texas GOP, which is expected to include George P. Bush in a prominent role. The 37-year-old nephew of former President George W. Bush, and son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is running for land commissioner.

"Help is on the way," Bush told supporters in El Paso on Monday. "After this primary season, we will go out there and fight the good fight."

For Democrats, who haven't won a statewide election in 20 years, the primary serves little but an early test of voter strength. A team of Obama campaign veterans launched the group Battleground Texas last year to give Democrats a chance and will watch turnout Tuesday to gauge their efforts so far.

Another race being closely watched Tuesday night involves U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, who at age 90 is the oldest member of Congress. Five GOP challengers are vying against him in an effort to deny him an 18th term.

Election administrators say the primary will be the first real test of the state's new voter ID law, which the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in 2011 but wasn't enacted until last summer amid legal challenges. No major problems or controversies flared when the law debuted in November during a low-turnout, off-year election.

Associated Press Writers Will Weissert in Austin and Juan Carlos Llorca in El Paso contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Brown Unsure About Legalizing Pot]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 22:28:25 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/brown_pot.JPG

California Gov. Jerry Brown, who just announced he's running for a fourth term, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that he is not sure that legalizing pot in his state is a good idea because it could affect the state and country negatively.

Gov. Jerry Brown Announces Plans to Seek Re-Election

When "Meet the Press" host David Gregory asked Brown whether it was time to legalize recreational marijuana in America's biggest state, Brown said that he would like Washington and Colorado -- the two states that have legalized recreational marijuana -- to "show us how it's going to work."

"The problem with anything -- a certain amount is OK, but there is a tendency to go to extremes," Brown said. "And all of a sudden if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together."

"As a TV guy I know I have a good sound bite when I hear one," Gregory responded, laughing.

Brown said that California has medical marijuana, "which gets very close to what they have in Colorado and Washington."

California legalized medical marijuana use in 1996.

But pot advocates are confident recreational use will eventually be legal here, regardless of what the governor says.

"I think he’s being the political animal he is… trying to slow things down… even though the ball is already rolling," Scott McGlashan of San Francisco said.

Opponents argue that pot is a gateway drug to other more-dangerous street drugs. But pot advocates say that is not true and point out that marijuana is less dangerous and destructive than alcohol

There are voter initiatives in the works in three other states aimed at legalizing the recreational use of pot, but for now, California is not one of them.

A December 2013 Field Poll shows that 55 percent of California's favor marijuana legalization, compared to a 1969 Field Poll, when 75 percent of Californians wanted either strict enforcement of marijuana laws against its use or passing even tougher laws, while only 13 percent favored its legalization.

Photo Credit: Meet the Press]]>
<![CDATA[Roads to Avoid for Netanyahu's LA Visit]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 21:33:42 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP146395685820.jpg

One day after a summit with President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Los Angeles Tuesday to meet with business leaders and attend the premiere of an Israel tourism film.

Netanyahu will attend the premiere of “Israel: The Royal Tour,'' which he’s featured in and speak at a VIP reception.

Netanyahu is expected to remain in Los Angeles Tuesday night, then head to Northern California Wednesday to meet with the heads of technology companies including Apple, LinkedIn and Ebay. He is also expected to meet with Gov. Jerry Brown, and the pair will sign an agreement to promote economic ties between California and Israel.

He is expected to return to Los Angeles Wednesday night and attend a gala reception, possibly in the Santa Monica/Malibu area.

Los Angeles police warned motorists to anticipate some traffic congestion due to the visit.

On Tuesday, motorists were advised to avoid the following areas:

  • Santa Monica Boulevard between the San Diego (405) Freeway and Melrose Avenue, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.;
  • the 405 Freeway between Wilshire Boulevard and the Glenn Anderson (105) Freeway between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m.; and
  • Melrose Avenue between La Cienega Boulevard and Van Ness from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, motorists should avoid:

  • Santa Monica Boulevard between the 405 Freeway and Melrose from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and from 4 to 11 p.m.;
  • the 405 Freeway from Wilshire to the 105 Freeway, also from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and from 4 to 11 p.m.;
  • the Santa Monica (10) Freeway between the 405 and Pacific Coast Highway from 6:30 to 10:45 p.m.; and
  • PCH between the 10 Freeway and Malibu Canyon Road from 6:30 to 11 p.m.

On Thursday, motorists were advised to avoid:

  • Santa Monica Boulevard between the 405 Freeway and Melrose from 8 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.;
  • Pico Boulevard between Roxbury and Castello from 8:45 to 10 a.m.; and
  • the 405 Freeway between Wilshire and the 105 Freeway from 12:15 and 12:45 p.m.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Signs "Badly Needed" $687M Drought Legislation]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 17:17:41 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/edt-474897415_10.jpg

Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed legislation to assist drought-affected communities and provide funding to better use local water supplies.

“Legislators across the aisle have now voted to help hard-pressed communities that face water shortages,” Brown said. “This legislation marks a crucial step – but Californians must continue to take every action possible to conserve water.”

The legislation had broad bipartisan support. SB 103 and 104 provide $687.4 million to support drought relief, including money for housing and food for workers directly impacted by the drought, bond funds for projects to help local communities more efficiently capture and manage water and funding for securing emergency drinking water supplies for drought-impacted communities.

The legislation also increases funding for state and local conservation corps to assist communities with efficiency upgrades and reduce fire fuels in fire risk areas, and includes $1 million for the Save Our Water public awareness campaign – which will enhance its mission to inform Californians how they can do their part to conserve water.

“Like the rain this weekend, this package is badly needed to help mitigate the effects of the historic drought California is facing. But also like the rain, we need to see more,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. “That’s why every Californian needs to continue to conserve water, and there’s more work to do on storage, water quality improvement and environmental protections. If we don’t act now, the problems we face will only get worse.”

For more information on the drought legislation, click here

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New San Diego Mayor Takes Office]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 17:01:19 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Kevin-Faulconer-PS-0214.jpg

San Diego's Kevin Faulconer took the oath of office Monday, becoming the mayor of San Diego months after a sex scandal forced the mid-term resignation of former U.S. Congressman Bob Filner.

"We are one city. San Diego is not at its best until every community is at its best," Faulconer said to the standing-room only crowd in reference to the different neighborhoods and cultures living within the city's boundaries.

"I will work tirelessly so every neighborhood has quality parks, libraries and community centers," he said.

He pledged to prioritize street repairs and promised to pave 500 miles of roads and invest $900 million over the next five years.

Faulconer also discussed his choice for police chief, Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman, saying she is the right candidate at the right time to replace outgoing Chief William Lansdowne.

He identified his administration's need to address the scandals happening inside the department as one of his highest priorities.

He also pledged to increase diversity in the force. "It's part of a greater quest, to bring equal representation and fairness to neighborhood services," the new mayor said.

Mayor Faulconer, San Diego’s fourth Republican mayor since 1992, is ticketed to serve until December, 2016, when the remainder of Filner’s term is up.

After the San Diego City Council appoints someone to fill Faulconer's 2nd District seat, the new mayor may face a Democratic super majority through the end of the year.

After his 9-point margin victory over fellow City Councilmember David Alvarez in February's Special Election, Faulconer told NBC 7's Politically Speaking host Gene Cubbison that he is intent on delivering just what he promised during his campaign – straightforward, reform-minded governance, a solid financial footing, and outreach across the partisan aisle on the City Council.

Beginning in July 2013, a number of different women levied allegations against then-mayor Bob Filner accusing him of inappropriate touching and sexual harassment.

In October, 2013, Filner pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment and two misdemeanor charges of battery.

He is currently serving a 90-day house arrest sentence that began Jan. 1. Per his sentencing, Filner will also serve three years probation and will still have to check in with his probation officer and be subject to unannounced searches and visits.

<![CDATA[Mayor Garcetti's Mexico-LA Trade Mission Underway]]> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 03:54:36 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/garcetti+getty.jpg

In his first foreign trip since taking office, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's three-day trade mission in Mexico City got underway as he met with Mexican leaders in hopes of strengthening the country's ties to Southern California.

As the mayor of the home to the second largest population of Mexican nationals outside of Mexico City, Garcetti's end results of the trip may be more direct dealings with the capital city and increased imports and exports through the Port of Los Angeles.

Garcetti on Monday met with the mayor of Mexico City and the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, seeking opportunities for cross-border sharing of technology and development.

"So here's to two great cities who are sisters, two mayors who are now brothers, and to all of us seeing a future that will be written together," Garcetti said at a Monday afternoon conference.

Garcetti signed "The "Los Angeles-Mexico City International Cities Economic Alliance," an agreement with Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera Espinosa to expand shared economic goals, investments and trade, according to Garcetti's office.

"For Mexico City firms to invest in Los Angeles, and if we see each other as an economic corridor, we see that we have great, great potential," said Solomon Chertorviski of the Woldenberg Government of Mexico City.

Among the desires are more cruise ships from Mexico into the Port of Los Angeles, more flights into Los Angeles airports, and more visitors the city for tourism.

Monday evening, Garcetti met with 200 Mexican industrialists in a private closed-door session and pitched Los Angeles as a place to invest. Garcetti acknowledges that there are environmental regulations that must be navigated but says it's worth it.

A slew of events were on Garcetti's planner, including the announcement of a major expansion of LA-based Panda Express restaurants in Mexico. He is scheduled to meet with more Mexican officials Tuesday, as well as with alumni from the University of Southern California Tuesday morning.

NBC4 is the only English-language television station covering the mayor's trip from Mexico 4You.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California "Lifers" Leaving Prison at Record Pace ]]> Tue, 25 Feb 2014 21:12:59 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/AP805809181377.jpg

Nearly 1,400 lifers in California's prisons have been released over the past three years in a sharp turnaround in a state where murderers and others sentenced to life with the possibility of parole almost never got out.

Since taking office three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown has affirmed 82 percent of the parole board decisions, resulting in a record number of inmates with life sentences going free.

This dramatic shift in releases under Brown comes as the state grapples with court orders to ease a decades-long prison crowding crisis that has seen triple bunking, prison gyms turned into dormitories and inmates shipped out of state.

Brown's predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, authorized the release of 557 lifers during his six-year term, sustaining the board at a 27 percent clip. Before that, Gov. Gray Davis over three years approved the release of two.

Crime victims and their advocates have said the releases are an injustice to the victims and that the parolees could pose a danger to the public. More than 80 percent of lifers are in prison for murder, while the remaining are mostly rapists and kidnappers.

"This is playing Russian roulette with public safety," said Christine Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. "This is a change of philosophy that can be dangerous."

The governor's office said the overcrowding crisis plays no role in the parole decisions.

Rather, the governor's office said, each case is addressed individually and Brown is bound by court orders that require state officials to ease the stringent parole requirements that have dramatically increased the time murderers spend in prison.

Today, an inmate convicted of first-degree murders can expect to serve an average of 27 years— almost twice what it was two decades ago before California became the fourth state to give governors the politically fraught final decision on lifer paroles.

Since then, the number of lifers has grown from 9,000 to 35,000 inmates, representing a quarter of the state prison population. But two seminal California Supreme Court rulings in 2008 have significantly eased tough parole restrictions.

The court ordered prison officials to consider more than the severity of the applicant's underlying crimes. It ruled that inmates' records while incarcerated plus their volunteer work should count heavily in assessing early release.

State figures show that since the rulings, the board has granted parole to nearly 3,000 lifers, including 590 last year and a record 670 in 2012. In the three decades prior to the 2008 rulings, only about 1,800 such prisoners were granted parole.

California's parole board decides which prisoners serving life sentences are suitable for release, but governors have veto power.

Davis reversed only two of 232 parole board decisions granting parole between 1999 and 2002 — a rate of 2 percent. Schwarzenegger sustained the board at a 27 percent clip during his seven years in office when he was presented with 2,050 paroles granted by the board.

Brown has allowed 82 percent of the 1,590 paroles granted by the board.

Brown's office says he is operating under a different legal landscape than previous governors, and that he is following court rulings and a 23-year-old state law that gave governors the power to block paroles of lifers who the state board found suitable for release.

A Stanford University study of lifer paroles between 1990 and 2010 found that a murderer had a 6 percent chance of leaving prison alive since governors were given the power to veto board decisions.

Gov. Pete Wilson, the first governor vested with veto power, used it sparingly, though the parole board was approving just a few dozen paroles a year compared with the hundreds the board has been approving in recent years.

Between 1991 and when he left office in January 1999, he approved 115 of the 171, or 67 percent, of the lifers the board found suitable for release.

"If an individual is eligible for parole and the board determines they are no longer a threat, the law says they must be paroled unless there is firm evidence indicating they are still a threat," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said.

The few studies of recidivism among released lifers including a Stanford University report show they re-offend at much lower rates than other inmates released on parole and none has been convicted of a new murder.

Of the 860 murderers paroled between 1990 and 2010 that Stanford tracked, only five inmates committed new crimes and none were convicted of murder. The average released lifer is in his mid-50s. Experts say older ex-cons are less prone to commit new crimes than younger ones.

Brown has reversed the parole board. On Friday, his office announced it blocked the parole of 100 inmates deemed fit by the board for release and sent two others back to the board for reconsideration.

One of those inmates found fit for release by the board but blocked by Brown was James Mackey, a former University of Pacific football player found guilty of shooting his victim with a crossbow and then strangling him. Brown said Mackey hasn't sufficiently owned up to the crime.

"Until he can give a better explanation for his actions," Brown wrote, "I do not think he is ready to be released."

Ernest Morgan on the other hand, is a lifer Brown did let free.

Morgan, a San Francisco man convicted of the shotgun slaying of his 14-year-old stepsister burglarizing the family home, was turned down for parole five times before the board granted him parole, only to be overruled by Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger wrote that Morgan posed "a current, unreasonable risk to public safety." And he noted that Morgan had at one point claimed that the shotgun had gone off accidentally, although he later acknowledged his guilt to the parole board.

"So I was devastated when Schwarzenegger denied my release," said Morgan, who now is majoring in business management at San Francisco State. "I felt I was a political pawn who would never get out."

In 2011, Brown approved his release after 24 years in prison. Brown made no comment in granting Morgan his release. Instead, the governor signaled his approval by taking no action within 30 days of the parole board's decision becoming official.

"It's been a remarkable and unexpected change," said Johanna Hoffman, Morgan's lawyer who has represented hundreds of lifers vying for parole since becoming a California lawyer in 2008. "The overcrowding issue has a huge amount to do with it."

Associated Press data journalist Serdar Tumgoren contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Calif. Sen. Calderon Pleads Not Guilty]]> Tue, 25 Feb 2014 06:40:13 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/california-senator-ron-calderon.jpg

Embattled California State Sen. Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty Monday after he was charged last week with a long list of federal bribery and corruption allegations.

The 56-year-old Montebello Democrat was traveling when the 24-count indictment was announced on Friday, and FBI officials said he agreed to surrender when he returned.

Prosecutors said Calderon accepted about $100,000 in cash bribes, chartered plane trips, high-end golf trips and gourmet meals. Calderon allegedly accepted these bribes in exchange for supporting or opposing legislation.

Wearing handcuffs and shackles, Calderon pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Monday and was set to be released upon releasing his passport and his wife signing a $50,000 surety bond. A trial date was set for April 22.

Tom Calderon, the state lawmaker’s brother, also faces charges in connection with the alleged scheme.

“The charges allege that the defendants traded influence for cash, and used kickbacks and other tactics to keep the system working in their favor,” said Bill Lewis, FBI assistant director in charge.

The indictment charges Ron Calderon with mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.

Ron Calderon is also accused of paying his daughter $39,000 for a bogus office job and paying around $30,000 for his son’s schooling.

Tom Calderon faces a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering for allegedly funneling bribe money through a non-profit group and consulting company he operates, prosecutors said.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday afternoon.

Prosecutors said Ron Calderon accepted $28,000 in bribes from Michael D. Drobot, former owner of the now-closed Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, in exchange for supporting legislation that “delay or limit changes in California’s workers’ compensation laws relating to the amount of medical care providers are reimbursed for performing spinal surgeries.”

Drobot has agreed to plead guilty regarding a major health care fraud scheme in another case announced by the U.S. Attorney’s office Friday.

The charges against the hospital executive involve tens of millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks in exchange for a huge number of patient referrals who received spinal surgeries. The referrals led to more than $500 million in bills, which were fraudulently submitted and, in large part, paid by the California worker’s compensation system, prosecutors said.

Law-enforcement sources described the allegations as what could be one of the largest health care fraud cases in state history.

Drobot is suspected of having had a heavy hand for some 15 years in the alleged kick-back scheme, which exploited the spinal pass-through law, which Ron Calderon allegedly kept on the books after receiving bribes from Drobot, authorities said.

Drobot was not indicted in the Calderons’ corruption case, but admitted to paying bribes to the senator, the FBI said. He is scheduled to be arraigned March 31.

As part of a plea agreement, Drobot has agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation of the health care fraud scheme, as well as the government’s prosecution of the Calderon brothers.

In addition to accepting bribes from Drobot, Ron Calderon allegedly also accepted $60,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio head, authorities said.

The lawmaker’s attorney, Mark Geragos, called the allegations in the affidavit “false and defamatory,” and Ron Calderon alleged that his office was raided in 2013 after he refused to “secretly record conversations with Senator [Darrell] Steinberg and Senator [Kevin] de Leon.”

If convicted, Ron Calderon faces up to 396 years in prison. Tom Calderon faces up to 160 years behind bars. 

NBC News' Andrew Blankstein and NBC4's Sean Fitz-Gerald contributed to this report.


Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncell]]>