Pay to play is back in the news, in a big way. Former Hahn Administration power broker Leland Wong pleaded not guilty this morning to a twenty-count Grand Jury indictment alleging grand theft by embezzlement, accepting a bribe, conflict of interest, perjury and filing false tax returns. He was released on his own recognizance. The charges come from an apparently new county grand jury that began meeting August 3 and has heard from 41 witnesses, according to LATimes.com. The charges allege that Wong accepted a $100,000 bribe from an official of Evergreen Shipping while a member of then-Mayor Jim Hahn's airport commission.
"The indictment of former Los Angeles City Commissioner Leland Wong by the county grand jury is a significant step in rooting out corrupt public officials and exposing corruption within public institutions," Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement.
Wong, who served in the mayoral administrations of Hahn, Richard Riordan and Tom Bradley, sat stoically between his attorneys, Janet Levine and Jeffrey Rutherford, at his arraignment. Wong's only comment was to plead not guilty to the charges.
"He intends to fight these charges and he intends to be exonerated of his charges," Levine said. "That is what we expect will happen."
Cooley's statement is interesting since the Times in 2003 charged that he let slide some suspicious evidence about Wong. The embezzlement charges date to Wong's position as director of government relations for Kaiser-Permanente. He resigned in 2004 and left the Board of Water and Power Commissioners amid allegations of misusing funds for political purposes. Wong was on the 2002 trip to Asia with Hahn that has fueled so much of the suspicion about pay-to-play patronage in the awarding of City Hall contracts. Prosecutors asked for details about the trip last year.