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Crenshaw-Area NC Caught Greasing the Wheels for Development Partners of Trump Family

EXPOSED--In a complaint filed Monday at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, we presented evidence that in violation of the California Brown Act and other potential laws,

multiple board members of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council (ECWANDC) have been privately colluding in an attempt to manufacture an appearance of public support for the controversial potential buyer of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, LivWrk-DFH Partners, which has close business ties to Donald Trump’s family members.  

While many neighborhood councils have famously been compromised by side deals and scandals in other development projects and often split over developments, this one may prove to be most damaging to the ECWANDC’s legitimacy and the entire neighborhood council system given the current the presence of public pension funds dollars from LA city and county employees (LA Fire and Police Pension and Los Angeles County Employees Retirement System), the decision making role of the Donald Trump’s infamous lender Deutsche Bank, and the well-organized and vocal community opposition. With a national spotlight on Crenshaw and heightened attention by the FBI on City Hall corruption, ECWANDC members breaking the open deliberations law may be facing more than just challenges to their seats on neighborhood associations. 

The proposed sale of the Crenshaw Mall to New York developer LivWrk-DFH Partners, who are close development partners with Donald Trump’s family members, has been the source of widespread local, regional and national opposition. It has led to large demonstrations, press conferences, and the collection of over 12,000 signatures in opposition through online petitions. The questionable bidding process conducted by the current asset manager of the mall who is controlling the sale, Deutsche Bank’s DWS, has led to business and civil rights leaders' request for investigation to the attorneys generals of New York and California. (Several California and New York public pension funds are investors in the mall through private equity fund Capri Urban Investors (pdf): LA Fire and Police Pension (pdf), LA County Employee Retirement System, University of California Board of Regents and New York City Employee Retirement System). Their letter points out that LivWrk-DFH Partners was given the right to purchase the mall over more qualified Black and local developers, including some development teams that reportedly submitted higher bids.  

The Deep Connection between LivWrk-DFH Partners and Trump Family Members 

The close personal and business relationship of LivWrk CEO Asher Abeshera with Donald Trump’s son-in-law and developer Jared Kushner has been exposed. It is easy to see through a search on the Kushner Company’s website and on the internet that not only have they co-developed multiple projects, including the infamous 184 Kent Avenue/Austin Nichols House, 25-30 Columbia Heights, 85 Jay Street, and Dumbo Heights. With only nine projects on LivWrk’s website, the above projects represent the half of all the company's projects and their only big projects. This is obviously a strong relationship, built over years. 

LivWrk CEO Asher Abeshera Defends the Character of His Friend Jared Kushner 

From the announcement of LivWrk-DFH Partners, Abeshera has repeatedly downplayed and misrepresented his role and his relationship with the Kushners, and we can understand why. The majority Black Crenshaw community is vehemently opposed to Donald Trump and knows that nothing he or Kushner have touched in a Black community is helpful. 

Abeshera seems to think differently, repeatedly justifying his deep business relationships with the son-in-law of the president, by defending the character of Jared. This is the same Jared Kushner who was rightly criticized recently for saying that Black people don’t want to be successful and should stop complaining about racism. According to Abeshera, in a cushy interview with the L.A. Sentinel his friend Jared was a good guy before he went to work for his father-in-law: “[Abeshera] says Jared Kushner was a democrat, a liberal, who did a lot of community work in soup kitchens, funded charity programs and was far different from the guy we see today.” Anyone who has seen the Netflix documentary Slumlord Millionaire, which highlights the Kushner Company practices of terrorizing tenants of all colors knows differently. That documentary also points out how the Kushners hide their involvement in business dealings through hidden LLCs. 

LivWrk CEO Caught Lying About Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Business Relationship in His Developments with Secret LLCs 

In an October LA Times story he claimed: “‘I have had no involvement with Jared since he went to work with his father-in-law,’ President Trump.”  

Abeshera's own statements contradict this claim. A May 2017 interview, five months into the Trump administration and over a year after Jared went to work for his father-in-law, Abeshera said, “we collaborate and speak every day” when referencing the LivWrk, Kushner, CIM relationship that he described as a “very cohesive” partnership. 

In a cushy interview filled with a bunch of pretty unbelievable statements with the LA Sentinel, he said “we have no future or active deals with [the Kushners].” However, in a recent meeting of the community group Downtown Crenshaw Rising, it was revealed that Ivanka Trump and Jared are not just past development partners, but CURRENT development investors in the Kushner-LivWrk projects.  

The federal form 278e is the public financial disclosure form for executive branch officials. Jared and Ivanka both work for President Trump so they are required to file it annually. The 278e form for Ivanka Trump signed in June of this year, indicates that contrary to Abeshera’s claim, they are CURRENT development partners through hidden LLCs. (Search the 278e form for: “Dumbo”, “RFR” and “Kent” to see the over dozen current investments including several that are listed as “RFR/K”). RFR, is the co-developer in the massive Dumbo Heights project, along with LivWrk and Kushner. It is not a small investment either, it is among Ivanka and Jared’s biggest investments, and is currently in financial trouble with aggressive foreign lenders. RFR’s CEO, Michael Fuchs is the father of DFH Partner’s 20s-something Sage Fuchs, whose occupation to date has been socialite and social media influencer. She’s the “F” in DFH Partners. The “H” is her partner a 20-something musician Kelsey Hunter.   

It is crazy to think that a team so unqualified and inexperienced could ever successfully manage a mall, let alone redevelop a complicated one like the 40-acre Crenshaw Mall. Even for LivWrk, a review of the projects on their website shows that in each of the larger developers they played a junior role, while Kushner Companies and RFR played the role of the lead developer. That LivWrk has developed nothing even close to the scale of the redevelopment of the Crenshaw Mall, yet was awarded the bid by Deutsche Bank’s DWS makes people wonder what is really going on. Is this part of an effort to help settle hundreds of millions in debts Trump has to Deutsche? Maybe the AGs of New York and California will find out. 

ECWANDC Chair & Board Members Secret Meetings including the Son of Deutsche Bank’s DWS Contractor Hired to Close the Deal to LivWrk 

After close Trump-Kushner development partner CIM backed out in June due to community pressure, one major element of the new bidding process established by Deutsche Bank’s DWS was for the new seller to display “community support.” In an obvious conflict of interest, they hired the Seritage Chief Operating Officer and former president of Capri Urban Investors Ken Lombard to close the deal with LivWrk. 

Seritage is a company created by Sears that redevelops the former Sears stores. There is a former Sears on the site of the Crenshaw Mall. With over 20,000 signatures signed, and support of over 200 community groups, and some of the best organizers in the city of Los Angeles opposing fighting, when Ken Lombard was announced over the summer he clearly had his work cut out for him. But he did have one extremely well-placed asset: his son, mall public relations representative Jason.  

In a familiar pattern where the elder Lombard works for a development company and hires his son, Jason Lombard was brought on to be the public relations representative for the mall on behalf of Capri in 2009. In June of this year, Jason was caught pushing a false statement before a homeowners association, in an attempt to minimize both the Downtown Crenshaw coalition organizing effort, and misrepresent the work of one of its leading organizations, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. 

In a pattern all too familiar for neighborhood councils and neighborhood associations, Jason sits on the ECWANDC board as an at-large representative. Real estate professionals taking over neighborhood organizations to promote their agenda is a frequent tactic seen throughout the city.  

As the public relations officer for the mall the young Lombard has spent a decade identifying, which community groups and representatives might not care whether close, unqualified, and non-Black development partners of Donald Trump’s family members and CIM took over control. That cadre revealed itself publicly at a press conference called by discredited Black activist Najee Ali, which includes several homeowners associations leaders, who are also real estate professionals, and ECWANDC chair Gina Fields.  

On Facebook, Najee can be seen making physically threatening comments and coordinating with Tisha Greene, who spoke at the press conference. Greene is an area realtor who markets several of her listings as investment opportunities. At the press conference she along with others sought to disparage and minimize the broad coalition opposing the sale to LivWrk by focusing solely on one group. In her public appearances Greene only identifies herself as the “land use committee co-chair” of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Association and ignores her professional affiliation.

Her co-chair on the homeowner’s association land use committee is John Gonzales, another real estate professional. In an email referenced in the article reporting on the press conference, Gonzales is caught publicly displaying his coordination with Jason Lombard, confirming the heavy hand of the Lombards in seeking to manufacture public support for LivWrk. In the email Gonzales states: 

But with the news re. BHCP, a re-birth of some controversy, and the lingering idea of the “alliance” development Town Hall; we’re going to have a discussion with any of you that can jump on at 12:30 tomorrow. I think we’ll get some quick info from Jason [Lombard] and more so share any thoughts on the sale and the concerns being brought up by some.  The Town Hall idea is in the early phase and we want it to be collaborative, to include CD8 and a couple if educational slots and it would be good to try and do it before the holidays arrive and after the ECWA General.” 

That email is in a chain where on October 8th, realtor Tisha Greene said: “Please join if you can to discuss the mall and land use town hall.” 

The next email in the chain comes on October 15th, where Greene said: “Note that the ECWA mall meeting will be scheduled in the last week in October, so let's plan for a Group Zoom on Monday, October 26, 2020 at 5:30pm.”  

We submitted the full text of the email chain referenced in the L.A. Focus article to the City Attorney today, and we’re exploring other potential manners to shine and light on this shady and corrupt process being done through the neighborhood council.  

The email chain shows the email addresses not just of several real estate professionals positioned on neighborhood associations, but also Najee Ali and 5 of the 15 members of Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council: Jason Lombard, chair Gina Fields (using her official ECWANDC email account) and also participated in a recent press conference expressing support for the LivWrk sale, Area 3 representative Diane Robertson, who recently was made famous as the Black landlord spokesperson opposing the expansion of rent control Prop 21, at-large rep Johnnie Raines of Leimert Park Village, Inc. works closely with Sherri Franklin (who stated in the LA Sentinel article as one of the likely developers being offered a minority stake in LivWrk’s deal), and Area 1 representative Isaiah Madison.  

Not only has this been an unethical process in direct contrast with the open meetings Downtown Crenshaw has been conducting weekly since May (and often multiple times a week) and attended by thousands of stakeholders thus far, it is also illegal. As specified in the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the Brown Act prohibits serial communications among a number of board members large enough to move an item at a meeting. With a quorum of 8, 5 is that number for ECWANDC. The same amount on the email chain. 

The ECWANDC board members selected also shows that this isn’t some innocent violation, where an email invite is blasted out to one too many neighborhood council members, but rather a deliberate decision of inviting some people to the closed-door meetings, and not others. The group of those NOT invited include: any ECWANDC board member who has spoken out in opposition to LivWrk in the past, any leader of a tenant organizations, and any leaders of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association, which is currently at odds with Sherri Franklin’s Leimert Park Village, Inc. This despite 13,000 petitions signed in opposition to the project, and over 70% of the residents in the neighborhood council area and have the most to lose from a gentrification plan. The gentrification of residents was the very basis of the Fair Housing Act lawsuit filed against the old plan by Capri, that Greene and others never mention when criticizing the lawsuit.  

Numerous Brown Act Violations During ECWANDC’s Town Hall with the LivWrk CEO 

The ECWANDC special meeting that the group coordinated to present LivWrk CEO Asher Abeshera in his only public appearance before to the community, violated both the purpose of neighborhood council, and a series of open meeting laws.  

As agencies that receive city funds and advise the city on issues, neighborhood councils are required to abide by the Brown Act, which allows members of the public to speak on any agenda item. In a first for any neighborhood council we and others can recall, ECWANDC didn’t allow any public comment during Abehsera presentation. Select questions submitted in the chat were read, and no follow-up questions were allowed. The chat was turned off, and when a sign was held up to request the chat be opened so everyone could see the questions, the camera of the participant was shut off. Other members of the public who held up signs displaying their opposition to LivWrk were kicked out of the meeting. The only time the public was allowed to speak was at the top of the meeting during public comment which was limited to just 6 minutes. We’ve checked around and never heard of such a controlled process by a neighborhood council. Even the City Council of Los Angeles doesn’t allow such tactics in an effort to avoid scrutiny.  

During the meeting, ECWANDC chair said that all of the questions asked would be posted afterwards on the website, and they have not. We had several questions that we never asked, including about his Ivanka Trump’s public disclosure showing he’s currently in business with them. 

ECWANDC board has also refused to release the videos from several previous meetings on the topic, including the special meeting called with just 6 hours notice, where the board members voted to oppose a reasonable request for a 60-day extension on the bid deadline supported by dozens of community, civil rights and business leaders. Again mysteriously, the group requesting the extension, Downtown Crenshaw Rising, was not invited to present why they were making the request (they had been only given access to data to submit a bid a few weeks while other groups had it for over a year), and despite just 6 hours notice the meeting had members from the same homeowners associations colluding through Gonzales email present to speak out against the extension. 

Investigations are Necessary to Uncover How Long ECWANDC been Violating the Law & Homeowners Groups run by Real Estate Professionals have been Colluding with the Lombards and Ali 

ECWANDC’s entire process deserves a closer look by the City Attorney and others investigating malfeasance regarding the sale of the mall.  

Last week we filed a public records act request of the neighborhood council to demand all of the records of the ECWANDC be made public and the specific neighborhood council members listed. We don’t expect them to follow the law in responding to the request any more than they have in other matters. Today we’re going a bit further.  

In her final statement at the sham town hall they held with Abeshera, chair Fields said she looked forward to working with Abeshera should he actually purchase the mall. She may, but most stakeholders don’t, especially the renters and the many others who see exactly what is taking place.  

Furthermore, it is not the responsibility of any neighborhood council to work with any developer. The requirement is to fairly represent the diverse voices of the community on issues before the city. It is obvious that ECWANDC cannot do that, and they are breaking the law doing the exact reverse. 

ECWANDC is not only compromised as a legitimate space to discuss the sale of the mall, but by revealing that they’re working with Lombards and real estate professionals, they’re helping drag the LivWrk-Trump-Kushner trojan horse to the Crenshaw community’s gate. 

(Donald Byers, renter in Village Green within the ECWANDC, and David Odusanya, ECWANDC stakeholder. They can be reached at :

donaldrbyersjr@gmail.com and davidodusanya1@gmail.com.  The views expressed by the authors of this perspective are not necessarily those of CityWatch or any of its contributors.)  

  

-cw