The assistant general manager of Santa Monica’s posh Huntley Hotel needed help.
Manju Raman wanted to raise big money for a campaign to stop a rival hotel’s expansion, and she needed it to look like the contributions stemmed from grass roots support. Raman, a political novice, was falling short of her goals. So she turned to a friend, Nimish Patel, the Huntley’s longtime business counsel.
What happened next will likely cause leaders of the former Los Angeles corporate boutique Richardson Patel to pay a $10,000 penalty—and serve as a reminder to other lawyers of the dangers of mixing business and politics.
According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, Patel’s law firm, Richardson Patel, invoiced The Huntley for $20,000 in October 2012. Half the money would pay the firm’s monthly retainer. The other half would be channeled to Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, a political committee created to support slow-growth and candidates and to oppose the Fairmont Miramar Hotel’s renovation project.
That $10,000 check was drawn on a bank account belonging to a pilates business owned by the wife of Richardson Patel’s chief financial officer, Doug Gold.
The cloaked contribution, state regulators said Monday, was illegal.
Patel and Gold reached an agreement with the commission in which Richardson Patel and Pure Pilates Inc. will pay $10,000—the maximum penalty allowed—to settle charges they failed to disclose the source of the Huntley’s original campaign contribution. The five-member commission will consider the proposed stipulation at its Aug. 17 meeting in Sacramento.
“Such conduct deceives the public as to the true source of the funds,” the commission staff wrote in the proposed decision. “The Huntley deprived the public of the opportunity to learn the true source of the contribution by using the law firm as the intermediary. The law firm took this a step further by using Pure Pilates as the second intermediary, effectively creating two layers to separate the contribution from its true source.”
A message left with Gold was not returned Wednesday afternoon. Patel was traveling Monday and did not immediately comment.
Richardson Patel merged with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp in 2015. Patel, a partner who specializes in corporate and business transactions, and Gold both work for the firm.
In a related stipulation agreed to by Raman and the commission, the Huntley Hotel faces a $310,000 penalty for the Richardson Patel contribution as well as 61 other counts of making a political contribution in the name of another person or business between 2012 and 2015.
Raman said she was unaware of the law against deceptive contributions and “accepts full responsibility,” the commission said in its decision.
“Raman contends that neither the attorneys nor the political consultant she worked with had suggested that she was doing anything illegal at the time, and that her own attorneys participated in one of the reimbursements without objection, leading her to believe that her actions in reimbursing others’ contributions were not unlawful or inappropriate,” agency staff wrote.
The Huntley retained Latham & Watkins for guidance on opposing the Miramar’s expansion plans. The firm was not charged with any wrongdoing by the Fair Political Practices Commission.