LAX cannot fully account for nearly $8 million in payments that may have violated federal law

By Gary Walker

Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that oversees LAX, is unable to provide documentation for nearly $8 million in payments to the Los Angeles Police Dept. over the past five years — a possible violation of federal law if federal funds were used for those payments, according to a U.S. Dept. of Transportation audit released April 11.

Federal law prohibits airports from paying federal funds to cities except for services that relate directly to operation of the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration, an arm of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, annually provides LAX with millions of dollars — including $45 million in fiscal year 2012 — that airport officials are required to spend on airport capital improvements and operating costs.

Airport officials are now required to recover any funds that were spent on unauthorized police services and upgrade airport financial tracking systems by Sept. 30 to certify that LAPD officers are being paid only for necessary airport services, according to the FAA.

“Any off-airport [police] costs will be deducted from [federal grant] payments,” Ian Gregor FAA spokesman wrote in an email response to questions about the audit.

“The FAA takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that airport sponsors receiving federal funds follow the FAA’s revenue use policy. The policy requires any airport revenue to remain with the airport and to be used for the safe and efficient operation of the airport and to make the airport as economically self-sustaining as possible,” Gregor continued. “Whenever the FAA learns of an alleged violation of the revenue diversion policy, the agency takes the necessary steps to investigate and work with the airport sponsor to remedy any violations.”

LAX officials referred questions to a statement posted online.

“Los Angeles World Airports takes the Federal Aviation Administration policy concerning the use of airport revenue very seriously. We have embraced the audit and fully cooperated with the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General throughout this process,” it reads. “The report is currently under review by management and counsel. As always, we continue to work to better serve the public.”

Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association President Marshall McClain said the findings of the audit did not surprise him.

McClain, who has often been at odds with the administration of LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, said airport officers could be doing the same work that LAPD officers used at the airport are doing, with the exception of the bomb squad.

“This is a practice [diverting federal funds to LAPD for services], that needs to stop,” he said.

According to the Dept. of Transportation, three members of Congress contacted the agency in 2011 and 2012 with concerns about federal funds being spent on city police officers. The agency did not identify those Congress members.

The FAA spokesman said the agency began its own investigation of LAX police spending prior to the audit, looking into potential issues that included overtime spending, billing errors, LAPD officers working outside the airport on airport-paid time and LAPD administrative costs being billed to the airport.

According to the audit, LAX officials reported no spending on legal services to the FAA in 2009 but internal financial data documented $4.6 million in legal spending that year.

Airport officials blamed “issues with data integrity in 2009,” according to the audit.