Alleged Lobbying Violations Hearing for Jason Somers Postponed
Posted Tuesday, August 13, 2019 - 5:46 pm
A hearing regarding alleged violations by Legislative Advocate Jason Somers that was set for Wednesday morning has been postponed to Oct. 2.
Beverly Hills City Clerk Huma Ahmed sent the following notice to members of the Sunshine Task Force today:
“This is to inform you that the Legislative Advocate Violation Administrative Hearing scheduled for Wednesday, August 14 at 9:30AM has been rescheduled. The new date/time is Wednesday, October 2 at 9:30AM. If you should have any questions, please contact City Prosecutor – Mr. Bill Litvak at 310-477-5575.”
The notice refers to a due process hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday morning that, according to a letter sent to the complainant Debbie Weiss, “to determine if Mr. Somers will be penalized for his actions.”
The protocol, said Litvak, “includes Mr. Somers’ right to be represented counsel, to have an independent and neutral hearing officer hear the testimony and evidence that will be presented.”
Local attorney Thomas Levyn, who will represent Mr. Somers, was unable to attend on that date.
The public hearing that will take place in Room 280B will seek a determination for Jason Somers, president of Crest Real Estate, if 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 Weiss, 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 Los Angeles 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.
A report by the prosecutor 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.
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.”
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 or/and 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.