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Emails obtained by LCCN under the Freedom of Information Act show a coordinated effort led by LA County CEO Press Secretary David Sommers.
By Brian Hews and Randy Economy
Two months ago, Los Cerritos Community Newspaper reported that billionaire developer Rick Caruso may have received special treatment and subsequent property tax reductions for some of the most profitable commercial properties in Los Angeles County after donating thousands of dollars to a political campaign committee that benefits jailed Los Angeles County Assessor John R. Noguez.
Since the LCCN article was published detailing the long time relationship between the two political allies, Noguez was arrested on dozens of felony counts of accepting bribes, forgery and money laundering allegations, and Caruso dropped his bid to run for Mayor of Los Angeles.
Several local media outlets reported on the details of the LCCN expose including television news stations, radio talk shows, news web sites, and political blogs. At the same time, out of the glare of the public, an aggressive campaign was being coordinated by high-level government officials at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration with a private public relations firm to discredit LCCN.
Last week, LCCN obtained hundreds of emails via the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ that details how Los Angeles CEO’s acting Press Secretary David Sommers, Chief Deputy Assessor Santos Kriemann had an open dialogue about the LCCN coverage with reporters and legal editors at the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets.
Click on image to view emails: Note: Our site was hacked and the emails taken down at 9:20 a.m. this morning, we have since been able to restore the documents and secured the email.Sorry for the inconvenience.
Documents confirm that Sommers spent almost the entire day of September 28 calling, emailing, and even assisting in writing a response to the LCCN story under the signature of Acting Los Angeles County Chief Deputy Assessor Santos Kreimman.
Even more disturbing, and possibly violating public policy, documents show Sommers, a county employee, secretly informing Charlie Sipkins, Managing Director of Sard Verbinnenn and Co. in Los Angeles, a national Strategic Corporate & Financial Communications company, and Galit Shokrian, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications for Caruso Affiliated, about what his office was doing to discredit the LCCN story.
Sommers also called and/or emailed CBS News, KNX News Radio, and internet blogs LA Observed and City Maven discrediting LCCN.
The collaboration between Sommers and several parties began at 10 a.m. Friday the 28th with an email from Santos Kreimman to Sommers stating, “I want to talk to you about this (the article on Caruso that appeared in the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper).”
By 1 p.m. Sommers, Kreimman and George Reinke (Deputy Assessor to Kreimann and a long time key ally to the jailed Noguez), finished what they classified as “corrections” to the LCCN article.
Then at 1:55 p.m., in the first of several extremely questionable moves, Sommers contacts Shokrian who is the Sr. VP, Caruso Affiliated, states, “Could you please contact me as soon as possible.” Sommers then contacted Sipkins (Sard Verbinnen & Co)
At 2:30 p.m., Sommers emails the corrections to Sipkens and Shokrian telling them “this (the corrections) is what we will be sending Brian (Hews) and Randy (Economy) shortly. It has been reviewed by our County Counsel. I also plan to send this to the other local media who have reposted the original article.”
At 2:54 p.m., Sommers sends to Sipkens as well as Shokrian an email that read, “The email (with corrections) has been sent (to LCCN).”
Sipkens writes back to Sommers, “did you send to Rick Schroeder at KNX News Radio.” Sommers replies to Sipkens, “no not yet on KNX, but trying to get to CBS 2, but they are with Hews and Economy at Los Cerritos Community Newspaper office in Cerritos.”
Sommers then sent the corrections to Assessor employee George Reinke, Cheryl Burnett, Press Secretary to Supervisor Don Knabe, Joel Bellman, and Press Secretary to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and D.J. Singer from CBS News.
After that, Sommer’s went on KNX Radio and slammed LCCN over the Caruso article. KNX never questioned Sommers as to why he went on the air to defend a private citizen.
During the three o-clock hour Sommer’s emailed the corrections to Kevin Roderick, from the website LAObserved, and Alice Walton, from the website CityMaven.com, saying “I sent you a Tweet about this, wanted to email it also.” The tweet was sent from Fujioka’s twitter account. In another unusual move, he also emailed the corrections to LA Times reporter Jack Dolan.
At 5 p.m., Sommers again emailed LA Times reporter Dolan telling him “Nordstrom called (CEO William) Fujioka; they said they have no relation with property tax agent Michael Schaaf.”
At 5:04 Dolan responded, “Got it on Nordstrom’s, any response from LCCN?”
At 5:05 Sommers emailed Dolan back saying, “nothing from LCCN.”
At 6:30, Sommer’s emailed Kriemann, “LCCN published the corrections on their website under public comments.”
Kreimann answers “So what does that mean? How long will the comments be up? Sommer’s then tells Kreimman, “I wouldn’t worry about it, the LA Times, KNX Radio and CBS 2 News thinks their story is a joke.”
At 6:35, Sommers sends another email to Kreimman and Renkei under the subject line “LA Observed: County has big issues with tax story implicating Caruso.” In that email he said “This was just published online at LA Observed. So not only did Kevin Roderick run our email concerns, but also points out that Randy Economy is actively supporting mayoral candidate Kevin James, a possible opponent if Caruso runs.” The note included a hyperlink to Roderick’s post to LA Observed.
On Wednesday, October 3rd at 9 a.m., LA Times reporter Dolan emailed Sommer’s “any luck with the leases.” Dolan was likely referring to the Nordstrom sub-lease at the Grove in relation to the parcel number indicated in the LCCN article. This also indicated that Sommers continued communication with the LA Times in an effort to further discredit the story.
Sommer’s emailed Dolan back “I am working on getting the leases. Any chance you would be willing to shed some light in what you are looking into, or is that pushing my luck.”
Dolan later replied, “Let’s talk after I review the leases.”
Sommer’s answers to Dolan “what’s your cell phone number, or where can I call you?”
Dolan then emailed Sommer’s back “I have been playing phone tag with Santos, is he going to suggest that I get the leases from the Recorders Office, if so, do you know someone with authority and ability to help quickly. I would rather not start from scratch.”
By 1 p.m., Sommers apologized to Dolan for “not having the leases yet.”
Two hours later Dolan emails Sommers and Kriemann with a copy to Matt Lait, Editor of Legal Affairs and Criminal Justice at the LA Times referring the a paragraph in the corrections asking, “Which publicly available county records are you referring to? Are you referring to your response to LCCN? The records I reviewed show Caruso Affiliated and AF Gilmore applied for multiple reductions on the parcels. All of the refund checks went from the County Auditor to AF Gilmore.” AF Gilmore is controlled by Caruso Affiliates.
Los Cerritos Community Newspaper spoke to Sommers from his office at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday and requested a formal comment about his role in the Caruso article. Sommers said he was “aware” that LCCN was working on this article and that he had “no comment.” “I will need to talk our County (Legal) Counsel to see if I will be able to respond,” Sommers said.
LCCN interviewed Sipkens and after being asked several questions about his involvement with Sommers and Caruso, he quickly responded “this conversation is over” and hung up the phone midsentence.
Through additional interviews by LCCN, several sources, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that Sipkens and his firm represent Caruso as a “public relations crisis consultant.”
LCCN also left a message for Shokrian on Wednesday to allow her the opportunity to comment and she did not respond.
Ryan Alsop, Assistant Chief Executive Officer for the County of LA defended Sommers in an interview with LCCN on Wednesday.
“Dave Sommers is a guy who interfaces with the media on behalf of the County. Santos (Kreimann) doesn’t do that for a living, he is busy trying to fix a problem inside the Assessor’s Office,” Alsop said.
Alsop also confirmed that Sommers contacted both Caruso Affiliated and Nordstrom’s corporate officials to alert them about the article that was being written by LCCN “as a courtesy because Mr. Sommers is a great professional, and that’s why he did it.”
(Editor’s Note: Los Cerritos Community Newspaper was the first media outlet to report about the allegations of corruption deep inside the LA County Assessor’s Office. Their coverage has been instrumental in the criminal investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office that has already resulted in the arrest of Assessor John R. Noguez, Property Tax Agent Ramin Salari, Major Property Appraiser Mark McNeill, and Appraiser Scott Schenter have all been arrested and are facing hundreds of felony charges between them. LCCN is being nominated for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for their efforts by several media outlets from throughout Southern California).
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