Crest Real Estate’s Jason Somers To Face Beverly Hills Hearing Over Alleged Lobbying Violations
Posted Friday, July 26, 2019 - 2:14 pm
By Victoria Talbot
A public hearing that will take place at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 14 in Room 280B will seek a determination for Jason Somers, president of Crest Real Estate, whether he willfully failed to disclose information on a legislative lobbyist form for the City of Beverly Hills showing that he had previously been sanctioned by the City of Los Angeles Ethics Committee.
A Citizen’s Complaint was filed by resident Debbie Wiess, whose epic battle against the mansionization of her tiny Loma Linda cul-de-sac by billionaire Canadian developer Francesco Aquilini led to the City’s Hillside/Basement Ordinances.
Somers’ Crest Real Estate, a firm that expedites permitting and plans for its clients, many of whom are megamansion hillside developers in Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and the Bird Streets, represented the developer.
Weiss’ complaint, dated Feb. 25, 2018, alleges that Jason Somers and two of his firm’s lobbyists, Margaret Schaffer and Parisa Nejad, “should be charged by the City Prosecutor for providing false information and intentionally omitting required disclosures for sanctions in other jurisdictions for the counts listed below,” which included 63 allegations against the three lobbyists.
The complaint referred to the trio’s Legislative Advocacy Registration forms for representation of a proposed project at 1184-1193 Loma Linda Drive, filed Feb. 23, 2018.
All lobbyists in the City of Beverly Hills are required to register within ten days of assuming a project. In January, the City Council passed an ordinance to amend the forms (BHMC §19-0-2749) to include the following questions:
“Have you ever been sanctioned for a violation of the Beverly Hills Legislative Advocacy Ordinance or a violation of any law, regulation or ordinance of another jurisdiction governing Legislative Advocacy or lobbying?”
“Has a firm at which you work, has worked, or for which you own or has owned an equity interest been sanctioned for a violation of the Beverly Hills Legislative Advocacy Ordinance or a violation of any law, regulation or ordinance of another jurisdiction governing Legislative Advocacy or lobbying?”
On Feb. 21, 2017, Jason Somers and his project manager Anthony Russo were found guilty of violating the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance by failing to register and file disclosure reports for their City lobbying activities 2015-2016. The pair agreed to the stipulations, admitted to six separate counts represented by these violations, and paid $15,000 each in penalties.
However, when the form asked if he or his firm had ever been sanctioned, none of the registrants provided the relevant information. In the boxes following the questions, each had written the word “no.” The same was true on forms for other projects submitted on the same day. Somers did so once again on a form filed Feb. 26 for yet another project.
At that time, Somers listed 35 projects within the City of Beverly Hills on his forms.
Following Weiss’ letter, on Mar. 3, 2018, Somers and his lobbyists corrected their forms, including that the firm had been sanctioned.
City Attorney Larry Wiener sent the complaint to the City Prosecutors office at Dapeer Rosenblit Litvak LLP.
“This office was aware of the contents and circumstances surrounding the initial filing and subsequent amendment of the registration forms at issue and took those facts into consideration when reaching our conclusions. In doing so, we considered the nature of the misstatement, the timing of the correction and the requirements of the Ordinance. Our mandate… is to identify those cases where probable cause exists to conclude that a person filing a registration form violated the Ordinance and whether they did so knowingly and intentionally… Ordinance 18-0-2749 made significant changes to the regulations governing compensated legislative advocates; it was passed Jan. 9, 2018 and only became effective on Feb. 9, 2018. The registration forms in question were filed on or about Feb. 23, 2018 and corrected on or about March 2, 2018. Under the totality of the circumstances we could not find, with any level of certainty, that there had been an intentional misstatement in numerous instances. When we could reach that conclusion, we did so and recommended further enforcement proceedings,” said the prosecutor.
The report concluded there was probable cause supporting a finding to support action as to alleged violations by Jason Somers, but that probable cause did not exist in the cases of Margaret Schaffer and Parisa Nejad.
BHMC § 1-9-104 prohibits legislative advocates from willfully deceiving the public or public officials with regard to any material fact pertinent to the proposed legislation, including any action that involves a development project. BHMC Section § 1-9-105 requires legislative advocates who engage in advocacy to register with the City Clerk within 10 days, and in the form provided, to specify if the advocate or the firm has been sanctioned and if so, what the violation was.
The penalty for such a violation is a fine not to exceed $500 per violation. The City prosecutor may request an administrative hearing – which Jason Somers will face on Aug. 14.
The Citizen’s Complaint filed by Weiss asserts that all the lobbyists made false statements under penalty of perjury when answering the questions about previous violations.
The first alleged violation, said the report, occurred when Jason Somers failed to disclose that he had been sanctioned on the registration form dated Feb. 23, 2018 for the project on Loma Linda Drive, “despite having been personally sanctioned by the City of Los Angeles. On March 2, 2018, the registration form was amended to include the information regarding the Los Angeles Ethics Commission sanctions against Crest Real Estate but Mr. Somers again failed to acknowledge that he personally was sanctioned… Mr. Somers did not disclose that he personally had been sanctioned, but rather stated that ‘Crest Real Estate’ had been sanctioned. This failure to disclose his own prior sanction – twice – is sufficient to find probable cause that Mr. Somers violated the Lobbyist Ordinance.”
The report also found that the failure to disclose his own prior sanction twice is sufficient to find probable cause for violation and that probable cause exists to support a finding that Somers “committed a violation of the Beverly Hills Legislative Advocacy Ordinance.”
Probable cause was also found that Jason Sommers “failed to disclose the correct date of engagement when he stated on his registration form for the 1184-1193 Loma Linda property his engagement commenced April 2, 2019. There is an email from Jason Somers regarding this property dated Aug. 16, 2013. In this email, it appears that Mr. Somers is looking for assistance on presenting the development application to the City. This would indicated that his engagement on the Loma Linda property occurred well before April 2, 2018,” states the report.
As for the other alleged violations filed by Weiss, the report indicated that probable cause did not exist to support those findings, including allegations naming Schaffer and Nejad.
The City Prosecutor will bring the case in front of a hearing officer. Somers and/or his representative(s) will be able to respond to the allegations.
According to City Attorney Larry Wiener, if convicted, Somers could also face a temporary suspension in the City of Beverly Hills.