Ed Buck Was Protected. He Still Is. Part III


This is a continuation of the story Ed Buck was protected. He still is. -- See Part 1 and Part 2

Despite multiple escorts dying of methamphetamine overdose in his West Hollywood apartment since 2017, Democratic megadonor Ed Buck managed to evade charges for over two years. From my previous article:

Buck’s life continued uninterrupted until September, when a third overdose victim managed to escape the apartment, sparking federal charges. Like Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest, the event brought a deluge of condemnations from his former friends, each denying knowledge of misdeeds and misrepresenting past relationships. Even the District Attorney’s office finally pressed charges. 

What could have bought Ed Buck so many layers of protection?  

West Hollywood politics has a glimmering rainbow surface, but the authentic underlying powers are real estate interests. The City Council controls the fate of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of development projects, a fact reflected in their campaign contributions. “Developers don’t drop tens of thousands of dollars in West Hollywood because they like the City’s position on gay marriage, says former West Hollywood Mayor Steve Martin.

With a huge war chest supporting them, a small handful of politicians reduced the government of West Hollywood to a game of musical chairs. John Duran, John D`Amico, John Heilman, Jeffrey Prang, and Abbe Land would bounce back and forth between the Mayor’s Office and City Council for decades, winning eighteen out of the last twenty-one mayoral elections between them.

Ed Buck played a variety of supporting roles in the political machinery, buoying the chosen few.

D’Amico’s political career was launched on the back of Buck’s support, winning a seat on City Council after marching through West Hollywood with Buck promoting his “Fur Free WeHo” campaign. Buck’s donations and connections to other major donors, including billionaire Gary Michelson, brought tens of thousands of dollars to Buck’s friends on City Council through multiple entities sharing the name ANIMAL PAC.

Buck’s money also bought him a position on the Steering Committee of the Stonewall Democratic Club, the kingmaker of West Hollywood politics. Buck used his position on the Steering Committee to influence Stonewall’s secretive endorsement process, one “designed to protect incumbents and well-financed, well-connected candidates,” says a former Steering Committee member. Stonewall rank and file must have wondered why the LGBTQ group was promoting candidates for County Tax Assessor and Board of Equalization. Buck was so useful, Abbe Land would open City Council meetings by calling him to recite the pledge of allegiance. 

Officially retired since his early thirties, Buck would not have had the money to sustain his prolific spending habits relating to drugs, escorts, and politics. His biggest payday was in the 1980s when he flipped his friend’s business, Gopher Courier, to profit just over a million dollars, after which he lost money investing into pay-phones and a restaurant.

After moving to West Hollywood, Buck was suspiciously cash-rich and asset poor, driving a wreck of a car and living in a rent-controlled apartment. Journalists paint Buck as a wealthy social climber, but his finances and lifestyle suggest he was a dirty political operative.

Data from California’s political contribution records is highly truncated, but campaign finance rules create patterns that highlight alliances.

One can skirt contribution limits and obscure contribution origins by breaking up large donations into smaller payments and passing them through family members and political allies, so I looked for donors that matched Buck’s donations.

He donated varying amounts to plenty of politicians and causes, but there were consistent primary beneficiaries such as Jeffrey Prang, John Duran, Scott Svonkin, Honesty PAC, and of course, his ANIMAL PACs. The highly incestuous top donors who also supported Prang, Duran, Svonkin, and Buck’s PACs were real estate interests, chief among them being Excel Property Management Services managed by CEO Arman Gabay. Arman Gabay and his company funded Jeffrey Prang’s successful 2014 Los Angeles County Assessor bid with the help of Ed Buck, Ed Buck’s future attorney Seymour Amster, ANIMAL PAC, John Duran, West Hollywood activists, and various real estate interests.  The same donors also funded periphery candidates who endorsed Prang and Svonkin.

As County Assessor, Jeffrey Prang controls property taxes on $1.7 trillion worth of property, explaining why his donors are real estate interests. The Tax Assessor is a notoriously corrupt office, both in Los Angeles and across the country. Jeffrey Prang’s predecessor was arrested by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office on bribery charges after selling tax breaks. Eighteen Tax Assessors in New York City were arrested on bribery charges after real estate developer Donald Trump realized he was paying more in taxes than his competitors.

This is where Scott Svonkin’s role comes in. Funded by Ed Buck, Buck’s attorney Seymour Amster, and a small handful of real estate interests after Gemmel Moore’s death in Buck’s apartment, Honesty PAC was created solely to fund Scott Svonkin’s 2018 for Board of Equalization, an oversight position overseeing the County Tax Assessor Jeffrey Prang. The kicker: Scott Svonkin was an aide to Jeffrey Prang while he served on West Hollywood City Council.

Scott Svonkin’s 2018 bid was unsuccessful, but the setback did not deter Jeffrey Prang. Whistleblowers filed suit against Prang for giving favorable tax treatment to West Hollywood real estate interests by intentionally losing legal cases, reversing property tax decisions, and reimbursing millions of dollars in back taxes for favored companies and individuals. Worse, Arman Gabay was arrested in May 2018 for allegedly soliciting preferable tax treatment from County Officials, soliciting public funds for his development projects, trading political donations in exchange for help on West Hollywood development projects, and other crimes involving political patronage. From a January 2020 prosecutor's motion: “in another phone call agents intercepted on or about April 22, 2017, defendant made clear why he donates to public officials -- he expects things in return.” When asked to contribute to reelect “Public Official 5,” he refused “because the last time he donated, defendant did not get anything from Public Official 5. Referring to Public Official 5, defendant said “f[*]ck him.”

If Arman Gabay had helpful public officials on his payroll, he and others likely had Ed Buck on it, too, which would explain Buck’s mysterious revenue stream. Buck’s choice of Christopher Darden as his defense attorney shows he still has plenty of cash to play with and that investigators aren’t chasing down where it comes from. Prosecutors seem to know Buck’s income is off the books; they requested an order from the court to ensure “no portion of the proffered bail was feloniously obtained.” Even from jail, Buck still has cards to play, especially if his corruption touches politicians or some in the district attorney’s office.

Journalists in Los Angeles are playing defense for Buck’s protective matrix instead of investigating corruption in Buck’s political circles. A New York Times article by Jesse Barron attempts to temper expectations about the trial’s outcome. The article also claims Buck’s half a million dollars in donations to Democrats weren’t protective, attempts to legitimize Buck’s finances, and portrays John Duran as Buck's enemy.  

While the district attorney’s office was supposed to be investigating Ed Buck, Deputy District Attorney David Berger donated to Buck’s ANIMAL PAC, making him one of the PAC’s four donors in 2018. He subsequently received support from John Duran and was endorsed by Stonewall in his bid for judge.


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