Leslie Moonves’ $11,250 Settlement With City of L.A. Rejected By Ethics Commission

The Los Angeles City Ethics Committee has voted down a proposed settlement by the city with former CBS Corp. head Leslie Moonves for “aiding and abetting the disclosure of confidential information and inducing or attempting to induce the misuse of a City position.” In a unanimous 4-0 vote, committee president Jeffery J. Daar, VP Manjusha P. Kulkarni and members Rabbi Aryeh Cohen and Alex M. Johnson shot down a plan by the commission for Moonves to pay a $11,250 fine for his role in a 2017 LAPD scandal connected to his downfall at CBS.

According to Daar, the commissioners all agreed that the allegations against Moonves were serious enough to warrant the maximum $15,000 ($5,000 for each of the three counts levied against the former exec) penalty currently allowed by the city charter, instead of the $11,250 agreement.

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“I think it’s fair to say that the commissioners were very concerned with the very egregious allegations,” Daar told Variety.

Daar said it’s extremely rare for the LA City Ethics Committee to vote against an agreed upon settlement. But in this case, the commissioners agreed that this was a good example of why the city of Los Angeles needed to amend its charter when it comes to ethics violations fees. Daar noted that the $5,000 maximum had remained unchanged for three decades — not keeping pace with inflation.

“It’s a very old number,” he said. “And that’s part of the story of why we’re trying to get that changed. This is a case that probably amplifies it. One violation is maximum $5,000. And it only gets to $15,000 for Moonves because there were three counts against him in the settlement.”

In 2017, as CBS’ leader was increasingly consumed with dodging accusations of past sexual misconduct from multiple women, he was tipped off to a police report filed in November 2017 by one of those accusers. Former TV executive Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb alleged that Moonves sexually assaulted her in 1986 when the two worked together at Lorimar Television. Moonves’ informant was Cory Palka, then a captain in the Los Angeles Police Department. Palka had previously worked as a private security guard for Moonves at the Grammy Awards from 2008 to 2014. Palka then further violated confidentiality laws and law enforcement ethics by sending Moonves a copy of Gottlieb’s report, according to the Ethics Commission settlement report made public on Feb. 16. Golden-Gottlieb died at age 86 in 2022.

According to the commission’s order, Moonves “admits that he violated City law by aiding and abetting the disclosure and misuse of confidential information and by inducing a City official to misuse his position to attempt to create a private advantage for Moonves. Staff recommends settling this case by approving the stipulated order.”

The commission’s settlement order noted that in recommending a $11,250 fine, instead of the full $15,000, Moonves “cooperated with staff and saved Ethics Commission resources by entering into a stipulated settlement before the preparation of a probable cause report” and “has no prior enforcement history with the Ethics Commission.”

Daar said Moonves’ cooperation was indeed considered by the city ethics commissioners: “It was publicly discussed, there is a systematic value of settling things versus spending resources that are not unlimited,” he said. But given the small amount that was saved in discounting the fee from $15,000 to $11,250, the commissioners looked at the larger principal of the matter.

Next up, the enforcement division of the Ethics Commission will likely negotiate a new settlement with Moonves, and that will go back to the commissioners for another vote. But they could also decide to prosecute the case via an evidentiary hearing. In that case, the commissioners would ultimately hear the case and decide the fine.

Palka’s tipoff to Moonves was disclosed in 2022 as part of the New York state Attorney General’s probe into the cascading allegations around Moonves and whether CBS Corp. violated Securities and Exchange Commission rules by not disclosing the damaging information to shareholders sooner. Moonves and CBS reached a $30 million settlement in the New York case.

Palka, who once ran the department’s busy Hollywood station, retired from the LAPD in early 2021 after 34 years at the rank of commander. After his activity came to light, the LAPD launched an internal investigation into his conduct. The status of that probe is unclear. In February 2023, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mack Jenkins, head of the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, was assisting the LAPD in its investigation.

Separately, the LA City Ethics Commission also voted 4-0 to deny a proposed settlement with former CBS senior VP of talent relations and special events Ian Metrose for his involvement in the case as an intermediary between Moonves and Palka. Metrose’s settlement was for one count, at $2500 (instead of the maximum $5000); Daar said the commissioners turned down this deal for similar concerns over the small penalty fees.

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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