Former Los Angeles airport commissioner Leland Wong has been charged with voting on a contract for a retail concession at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at the same time as he was allegedly pursuing a business deal with the concession owner.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office charged Wong Thursday, May 31st, with one count of felony conflict of interest, a district attorney spokeswoman said.
Wong pleaded not guilty to the charge at an arraignment in Superior Court Friday, June 1st, a court spokeswoman said.
The former member of the Board of Airport Commissioners already faces 20 counts of bribery, conflict of interest, embezzlement and other crimes, according to the county District Attor- ney’s office.
The original charges were filed in August as part of a “joint state-federal probe” into allegations of pay to play by some officials in the administration of former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Deputy district attorney Max Huntsman said the conflict of interest charge filed May 31st stems from Wong’s service as an airport commissioner from October 2001 to March 2003, under Hahn’s administration.
In December 2002, Wong voted on amendments to a contract held by W.H. Smith for retail concessions at LAX. At the same time, he was allegedly pursuing a business venture with W.H. Smith chief executive officer Sean Anderson and Benny Klepach, a W.H. Smith subcontractor, to market duty-free services in Asia, Huntsman said.
“Leland Wong abused the public’s trust through a variety of pay-to-play schemes that our office continues to uncover,” county District Attorney Steve Cooley alleged in a statement. “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute these cases as part of my commitment to root out corruption in public institutions.”
Wong’s attorneys, Janet Levine and Jeffrey Rutherford, called the latest conflict of interest charge a “rehash of old, discarded claims.”
“Mr. Wong acted in the public’s interest and didn’t violate any laws,” Levine told The Argonaut.
In the alleged business venture to market duty-free shops at Asian airports, which never went through, Wong could have earned more than $100,000, Huntsman said.
District attorneys charge that a conflict of interest arose because Wong voted on the concession contract during the time he was allegedly pursuing the deal.
“When a public official votes on a contract they should have the public’s interest at heart,” Huntsman said. Evidence for the alleged business deal includes e-mails and witness statements, Huntsman said.
But Levine said the evidence in the case will not support the district attorney’s charge and Wong’s attorneys are confident that their client will prevail in the end.
“There are no new facts, no justification for this new charge, and nothing about it that shores up the weak case we have been fighting in court,” Wong’s attorneys said in a statement. “As we have said before, we are confident that Leland Wong will be fully exonerated when the fight is over, no matter how many desperate shots the prosecution tries to take.”
A preliminary hearing for Wong is scheduled Tuesday, July 31st, in Superior Court.