The San Diego Ethics Commission has proposed levying a maximum $170,000 fine against Nancy Graham, the former CCDC president, alleging that she broke the law by improperly making decisions in office that benefited her business associates.

The commission’s case almost solely focuses on the relationship between Graham and the Lennar Corp., a partner in the $1.5 billion Ballpark Village project adjacent to Petco Park. It doesn’t allege wrongdoing in Graham’s involvement with the developers of a $409 million downtown skyscraper at 7th and Market that the Centre City Development Corp. killed in the wake of Graham’s departure.

Graham, who resigned last summer, worked as a developer in Florida before coming to CCDC in 2005. While in Florida, she received $3.5 million from a development deal with Lennar, the commission says in its complaint — $500,000 more than what Graham estimated she’d earned when testifying under oath in 2007.

And the payments started after Graham began working at CCDC and continued through October 2007, the commission’s complaint says — months deeper into Graham’s tenure at CCDC than previously disclosed.

Graham never disclosed receiving any income from Lennar in her annual conflict-of-interest reporting forms — even though she acknowledged it under oath in 2007. She has since pleaded no contest to a charge of failing to disclose her interests.

Graham was working on a planning update aimed to clear the way for Marriott International to build a 1,929-room hotel on the site east of Petco Park. Marriott later withdrew, citing the financial markets’ turmoil.

The commission’s proposed fine, first reported in today’s Union-Tribune, treats each of Graham’s actions on Ballpark Village as a separate offense. Each instance can bring a maximum $5,000 fine. The counts break down this way:

  • 24 counts ($120,000 maximum fine): The commission says Graham participated in 24 meetings about Ballpark Village.
  • Six counts ($30,000 maximum): Graham sent six e-mails to city officials or the developers about the project, the commission says.
  • Two counts ($10,000 maximum): Graham signed two staff reports, one recommending approval for a permit, the other outlining major changes and issues the project faced, the commission says.
  • Two counts ($10,000 maximum): Graham participated in discussions at two committee meetings, the commission says.

Graham has maintained that she did nothing wrong. If the full fine is levied, it’d be the commission’s largest since being formed in 2001. (Its largest to date was against Luis Acle, the former school board member, who was fined $68,243 in July 2008.) The commission, which enforces the ethics laws in the city code, has a March 4 hearing scheduled on the fine.

— ROB DAVIS

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