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Weho Employees Charge More Than $13K on Meals, Gifts

A Weho community activist who combed through city records to find the charges calls them "abuse" and "one of the worst kept secrets in City Hall."

Editor's Note: The story has been updated with a response from the city of West Hollywood. 

With the election just three days away, a community activist has uncovered what he considers extravagant meals and gifts that employees paid for with the city’s credit card.

More than $13,000 in charges were made on the city credit card for lunches at Soho House, dinners at , Montblanc pens, gift cards and more, local activist Ed Buck found out after combing through records for the city’s charge card.

"Rumors have been swirling around for ages; everyone knew there was abuse in City Hall. Finally, I said, 'I’ll do the digging,' " explained Buck, who filed a public records request in January and finally was allowed to see the documents Thursday, but only after much pushing.

What he found included $674 for dinner for six at Cecconi’s (including a $75 plate of wild salmon); $195 for lunch at Soho House; $308 for dinner at Soho House; $152 for lunch for nine at ; $114 at Italian restaurant; $77 at ; $92 at the Palm restaurant; $2,040 for six Montblanc pens bought at the Beverly Center; and $1,860 worth of gift cards from Gelson’s. 

Mayor deputy Fran Solomon made a large number of these charges. Another person who was not identified on the records made many others, Buck said. 

Even more disturbing to Buck was the people being treated to these dinners and lunches. The list includes lobbyist Steve Afriat and developer Richard Weintraub.

"I looked and saw 'Lunch with Steve Afriat, $100,' " Buck said. "Why are they taking a lobbyist to lunch and then paying for it? With taxpayer dollars? The man makes $300,000 a year and we’re paying for it?"

Buck released his findings to City Council candidate Scott Schmidt, who posted it on his blog Friday morning. Within two hours, LA Weekly had run with the story.

Buck gave the information to Schmidt because one of his campaign platforms has been reducing excess spending in City Hall.

“I knew we had to get it out there before the election,” Buck explained. “I figured if I gave it to a candidate, he’d post it and the press would pick it up.”

Buck and another person spent approximately four hours Thursday morning sitting in the hallway beside the ladies room in City Hall (the nearby conference room was empty, but they weren’t allowed to use it), combing through more than 5,000 pages of receipts. The entire time, Assistant City Clerk Carmen Nunley sat four feet away watching them. When she had to use the bathroom, City Clerk Tom West or another employee came out to watch them.

Buck was not allowed to photocopy or photograph the records, only make written notes. “They wouldn’t let me photograph them because they said I might get personal information or the credit card numbers off the receipts; she said they might have to be redacted,” Buck said.

When LA Weekly tried to contact Solomon for comment, its reporter was told that she was at lunch. West told LA Weekly, “People use the cards for different things,” adding that he’d “have to investigate if there was a written policy" against using the charge cards for dinners of a certain cost.

Buck called the charge card use "abuse" and one of the “worst kept secrets in City Hall.” 

Schmidt said he too was sickened by the charges when Buck gave them to him.

"This is a fundamental question of 'Is this legal?' " Schmidt said. “I don’t know of any place it would be legal, but under John Heilman’s leadership, it seems to be acceptable to have $100 lunches.”

Schmidt said he took it on blind faith that Buck’s information was accurate and posted it because the public needs to know. “We expect public employees to be good stewards. If you’re making over $100,000 [Solomon’s yearly salary], you should be able to buy your own lunch.”

Neither Schmidt nor Buck said they knew whether the district attorney would get involved in the investigation, but both compared these credit card charges to the Bell City Hall scandal that the LA Times uncovered last year.

The city's Finance Department staff issued the following statement to West Hollywood Patch:

"All credit card purchases are reviewed by staff in the Finance Department to ensure appropriate documentation and that the purpose of the expenditure was for legitimate city business. No public funds have been expended for membership in the Soho House and the Montblanc pens were gifts celebrating major employee milestones."

The statement also said the city of West Hollywood has in place a written expense reimbursement policy adopted by the City Council that complies with the requirements of Government Code Sections (AB 1234).  "Any expenditure charged on a city of West Hollywood credit card must be in compliance with the policy and in furtherance of a municipal purpose," the statement said. 

Schmidt says it's up to the voters to hold Heilman accountable. Buck added, “John [Heilman], if you knew, you shouldn’t be re-elected. If you didn’t know, you shouldn’t be re-elected.”

Buck said that he made notations only of those charges that were saw as egregious. But there were many more that he found questionable. “I only scratched the surface. I imagine there are $100,000 worth of excess charges for 2010 alone. Who knows how much it will be if they go back through the years.”

Buck quit sifting through the records after four hours because it simply became “too overwhelming” to continue, he said.

Buck has offered to make his notes available to all nine candidates for the three City Council seats up for election on March 8. So far, three have responded to his offer. He’s also willing to let the public see his notes. He hopes that if people put enough pressure on City Hall, it will release the full records to the public.

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me March 06, 2011 at 08:58 PM
ok, i should have googled "west hollywood properties, LLC " first....take a minute and do the same, then you'll vote the exact OPPOSITE of what they want us to do.....they are frightening, people!!!
jimmy March 06, 2011 at 11:25 PM
I remember that James Fuhrman guy that used to talk about all this. I think he only got like 3 votes cause the voters/renters prefer to continue getting rent control than hear about corruption. I think he ran away to like Spain or Malaysia? not sure.
WeHoOne March 07, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Why does it come as no surprise that it is ONLY John Heilman's assistant who is signing extravagant credit card bills to be paid for the by the tax payers? It falls in line with HIS sense of entitlement and self importance which he apparently has blessed her with as well. I don't think it would ever occur to John Heilman that he is limited in his city power play in any way, shape or form. It's scary. Compare that to John Duran's assistant who repaid the city for a $25 lunch and you have a pretty strong indication of who is honorable, worthy of trust, and of good admirable character. I don't care what the end results of this investigation turn out or are purported to be, there is enough information revealed already to know & understand that city hall is broken and has a serious problem - I feel this is only the tip of the iceberg- if it walks like a duck....if it talks like a duck.....it's a duck. Sad scrape. I can't wait to hear the grandiose explanation and the expression of great pride in his deeds - or misdeeds- whichever
Bob March 07, 2011 at 03:21 AM
The only thing the majority of weho residents want is some Kush and an Apartment at half price. They could care about anything else. They are sort of hopeless souls. Look how many young healthy people line up on Santa Monica Blvd to buy Weed from Drug Dealers posing as caregivers. Wait till they try to return something and then they find out that they have been used as suckers.
Bob March 07, 2011 at 03:23 AM
It's a gay lover thing. Heilman uses his office as a booty call. Bum Boys like Andrew Cunanan are expensive toys.
me March 07, 2011 at 03:24 AM
ohhhhh bobbbbb (mary tyler moore voice from dick van dyke)......one assumes you are on something or need to be with yur crazy rants
Bob March 07, 2011 at 03:34 AM
At Least I come to this board with content unlike a phreak like yourself. I came here 10 days ago with the exposure that all 3 of the Abbe Land Crew were taking money from CBS outdoor. Since then WeHo has changed their website from just friends of Neighbors against Tall Billboards to CBS outdoor. What content have you brought forward. I also pointed out that the Iranian Jewish Temple on Crescent Heights and Fountain has has west hollywood taxpayers foot the bill for an exterior paint job. In return you attacked me for being Anti Jewish and wanted to brush aside that Friends of Iranian Jews have taken Tax Dollars. To show you what a nice guy I was I also pointed out that crescent heights methodist church also had West Hollywood taxpayers pay for it's most recent paintjob. You don't have any dirt because you are not connected and uniformed. Instead you ramble on about meds and 1962 Tv Shows with Morrie Amsterdam.
me March 07, 2011 at 03:40 AM
ohhhhhhh bobbbbbbb.....yes, yes we know....yur anti semite.....which youve made quite clear many times these past few weeks
Bob March 07, 2011 at 03:47 AM
Your a sick evil person. You trash everyone else who is stealing from WeHo but protect your own when they are a member of your tribe. You have made it quite clear what you are all about. I raised the question why is a Jewish Iranian temple in WeHo making donations to the big 3. I pointed out that they have received a free paint job at Tax Payer expense. Is this because you are "Chosen" A Chosen person is allowed to do what ever they please without question?
Bob March 07, 2011 at 04:00 AM
http://www.weho.org/index.aspx?page=954
Max March 07, 2011 at 04:07 AM
At city hall why wasn't anyone questioning Frannie's behavior? Why wasn't a Division Manager signing off on her expense reports? Why was the administrative services supervisor signing off when the sign title is susposed t obe a Division Manager.? Something smells fishy
Nancy C. Rodriguez March 07, 2011 at 04:41 AM
West Hollywood City Council candidates Scott Schmidt, Steve Martin and John D'Amico have announced they will hold a press conference to talk more about this issue. The press conference will be held across the street from City Hall at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.
Nancy C. Rodriguez March 07, 2011 at 04:42 AM
My Internet connection froze ...sorry about the multiple posts. I've deleted the two repeated messages.
me March 07, 2011 at 07:12 PM
anyone go to the press conference?...was the broadcast media there?
Bob March 07, 2011 at 07:28 PM
you're the real boss of weho right now, no need to apologize .
WeHoOne March 07, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Because "Frannie" is the big bosses "deputy" and her $100,000. per year salary plus health and many other benefits are not enough for greedy and shameless people. The fox is in charge of the henhouse. It seems to me "Frannie" is the big spender because she has been blessed by John Heilman with his same sense of entitlement and egomaniacal mind set. Paul Aravello should resign at once with no further delay. I do not think he meets the smell test of public trust and lacks the character and judgement to "manage" our city without dipping into the till far too many times to be retained in our service.
WeHoOne March 07, 2011 at 07:38 PM
5 o'clock news on channel 4, for one. But I think it will be on other news channels as well. The press conference was very successful, the non incumbant candidates were there and all gave their take on the unfolding scandal and were interviewed individually by the news crews afterward, so I think it will be in /on many media outlets today and for the next couple jf days. John D'Amico, Steve Martin, Mito Aviles, Lucas John, all spoke to the media as well as Ed Buck. Ed Buck is to be commended for a remarkable job, in spite of all the resistance he got from city hall in providing him the information he requested. This attitude at city hall is also something that should be looked into.
me March 07, 2011 at 07:42 PM
GREAT!!!....schmidt was there too, i hope!
WeHoOne March 07, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Schmidt was there too. He is a very good speaker, seems to know the issues well and seems to have good judgement and alot of common sense. He would make a great council member and a good honest "public servant. I think he is a man of good character and trust.
Bob March 07, 2011 at 07:50 PM
west hollywood city hall is taking transparency lessons from barack obama. do as i say, not as i do. the weho 3 should be publicly tarred and feathered and allowed to run through the traffic they created on santa monica blvd from kings road to la brea while being chased by weho villagers. after that post their chicken feathered heads on all 4 corners of this city
me March 07, 2011 at 08:05 PM
i agree....although "the 3 stooges" have turned our village into a concrete jungle so gone is the "village" concept we've had for a few decades
jimmy March 07, 2011 at 10:05 PM
All of this was pointed out years ago by that crazy guy with the bad public access t.v. show. why now all of the sudden is there all this fake outrage? he would play something on the piano, then scream about Frannie's charges. seems he just disappeared off the planet or maybe the crooked council offered him money to shut up, and he sold out just like the rest of them always do.
me March 07, 2011 at 10:12 PM
or they had him killed?......or he's in the witness protection program?.....haha
jimmy March 07, 2011 at 10:23 PM
me, you're starting to make a lot of sense. it just seems odd, that guy wouldn't shut up, now no one knows anything about him. it's kind of suspicious. i used to read that long winded newsletter he sent out. i recall some charge from Frannie for 25 cents parking meter reimbursement she requested. in writing. maybe the voters are to blame. maybe they get what they deserve, or they deserve what they get.
Sheila Lightfoot March 07, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Every resident of West Hollywood should be grateful that the non incumbent candidates came together to help expose excessive and extravagant charges to OUR credit cards. Would we rather this came out AFTER the election? At the press conference this morning, they had RECEIPTS for heaven sakes. Really glad to see all the LA news channels there. Only insiders would try to explain away this kind of rip-off of the city. Abbe Land, John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath MUST GO! We have excellent non incumbent candidates waiting in the wings - but we have to get out and VOTE for 3 of them. It's not too late to find out about the challengers - 4 of them answer residents' questions here (google: meet the candidates right here and now) and you can check out all of them on their websites. PLEASE INFORM YOURSELVES & VOTE TOMORROW!
Edd Holman March 08, 2011 at 01:03 AM
Innocent until proven guilty. If no laws were broken then this is really nothing more than a smear campaign by someone with an axe to grind. Maybe a losing candidate?
jimmy March 08, 2011 at 01:06 AM
how is it possible to have all those credit card charges, and somehow think they could all possibly be legitimate? you're either a public servant to serve the public, or to serve yourself. it doesn't take a genius to see what's going on. taking a lobbyist to lunch is enough proof for me, and they freely admit that one in writing. it's the lobbyists who are supposed to be bribing the public officials, not the other way around. if the public officials are bribing the lobbyists, then it's worse than we thought.
Nancy C. Rodriguez March 08, 2011 at 08:49 AM
West Hollywood Patch has photos and video of the press conference. We have the story on our site. You can see it here. http://patch.com/A-fCqW
me March 09, 2011 at 01:01 AM
the only thing i can say about those receipts: if the city considers it to be "legal," then the law needs to be changed-----i'm outraged!!.....i'm sure this has been a long time coming.....who's minding the store?.....there needs to be a watchdog group
joninla May 01, 2012 at 09:12 AM
I know - a year later I am replying .... but it does seem clear (and news to me there was an 'Iranian Jewish' community ... or that they had anything to do with weho) that they do in fact control our city. The City Council's immediate formal proclamation passed immediately after the first episode of the 'Shaws of Sunset' reality garbage aired, was way too fast to be anything but "following orders of the Iranian Jewish Power Holders who disliked the way the show depicts their community and called to have the city formally denounce A TV SHOW" There wasn't even enough time for social media to start it's discussion about how awful this latest reality show was, and our City Council had already discussed, agreed, drafted, voted and approved a formal city declaration?

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