Four years ago, Jim McDonnell campaigned on the promise of restoring the shine to LASD’s badge. After all he allegations about pay-for-play under Paul Tanaka, McDonnell was vocal about not accepting donations from department employees, vendors or shady businesses. (That’s what his PAC was for.)
So we were disappointed to learn McDonnell–then and now–accepted thousands of dollars directly and indirectly from a Glendale used car salesman and former LASD reserve deputy hired through the “Friends Of the Sheriff” program.
And we were disappointed to hear in recent weeks that this same individual has been offering to spend his own money on McDonnell’s behalf–a possibly illegal in-kind campaign contribution of the sort this individual has been known to make before (more that on below).
Meet Onnik Mehrabian.
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He’s the guy on the left, with his arm around ‘ole Fresh Eyes McDonnell–in a photo taken just three months ago. Before he maxed out his donations to McDonnell just three weeks ago.
Mehrabian left LASD last year. We’ll get to why, and why it matters, in just a minute.
Mehrabian is owner of Glendale used car lot CARS 911. In 2006, he became a Level III reserve deputy through the “Friends Of the Sheriff” (FOS) program. Level III reserves have minimal training and no police powers (unlike more highly trained Level II and I reserves, who do), but they do get a uniform, badge and gun.
We assume the idea behind the FOS program was to involve people across our diverse community with the Sheriff’s Department and for the Department to be able to leverage their skills–whether specialty or business expertise, or language translation ability–to benefit the public. If run in a disciplined way, it can work. But in practice at LASD, the program was an incubator for cronyism, with its members enjoying the trappings of law enforcement without completing the necessary training, getting the necessary real-world experience, or delivering value greater to LASD than the risk they posed.
In fact, when the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) was tipped off that FOS reserves had not even been trained at sheriff facilities but that their instructors came to them at a Beverly Hills home, POST revoked their status, forcing many to repeat their training legitimately, or to quit.
As a Level III reserve, Mehrabian had at best about as much training as a security guard, yet wore a regular uniform indistinguishable from a regular deputy. Despite never doing any police work, he held the rank of “Reserve Captain” and wore captain bars on his collar.
Much of this occurred under the leadership of former Undersheriff Larry Waldie, though poor Sgt. Luna (below) became the internal fall guy. Another FOS academy instructor–pictured below in blue–seems to have done better for himself, pictured here recently on a panel two seats from McDonnell. Rollo Tomassi, perhaps?
Friends Of The Sheriff
Class of 2006
Anyhow, when Interim Sheriff Scott took office four years ago, he fired a bunch of the FOS reserves. Mehrabian miraculously survived that purge. We wondered why.
So, we checked campaign contributions and did a little digging, and would you believe it?
- Mehrabian and his family have donated significantly to Jim McDonnell–and District Attorney Jackie Lacey (whose job it is to independently investigate the Sheriff’s Department) for years.
- Mehrabian’s business (with which he was very well associated), CARS 911, is also one of McDonnell’s biggest donors
- As of just three weeks ago, Mehrabian has donated $1,500 (the legal maximum) to McDonnell’s current campaign for reelection.
- Mehrabian was fined $22,500 by the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission four years ago for violation of campaign finance laws
- Mehrabian has been accused of being a shady political operator in the past
So, all-in-all, not a guy you’d expect a sheriff who promised the community he’d restore the shine to the badge would keep around. And yet he has despite, as we understand it, repeatedly being warned not to.
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It was February 26, 2015 at approximately 0545 hours. On this date and time, Reserve Mehrabian walked out of his house and decided some guy nearby (possibly a neighbor, possibly a vagrant) was suspicious and demanded to know what he was up to. The guy didn’t respond and drove away. According to our sources in Glendale, Mehrabian, despite (as a Level 3 reserve) having no peace officer powers, and despite having no probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred, then engaged in a nearly 30 minute vehicle pursuit of the guy in his personal vehicle) through the streets of Glendale and Burbank. Apparently speeding and blowing stop lights until they arrived at Burbank PD, where Mehrabian’s prey himself went because he was presumably terrified he was being followed by a crazy person. During this time, Mehrabian was on the phone with the Glendale Police Department, reporting that he was in hot pursuit and requesting assistance, refusing to cease his pursuit after being instructed to do so over a dozen times, protesting “But they will get away!” He then apparently added that he knew what he was doing because he had “worked undercover”. All this according to records of the incident LASD.News has reviewed.
Once the pursuit terminated in front of the Burbank Police Department, Glendale officers arrived to make sense of this mess. They (being actual, trained police officers) quickly determined no crime had occurred and there was no lawful reason for Mehrabian to believe one had, but they took a non-criminal/suspicious circumstances report for CYA purposes. (See Glendale Police Department report 16-3312 for further information.)
Apparently, once Glendale PD realized the pursuit was a big nothing–to which they had numerous units putting their lives in danger responding Code-3, they became just a little annoyed, with one officer asking Mehrabian if he knew what probable cause meant. According to recordings of the incident LASD.News has reviewed, Mehrabian reportedly replied that he didn’t know what probable cause meant, but the guy was suspicious and it was Glendale PD’s job to check the scoundrel out.
“I’m being helpful!”
Mehrabian reportedly additionally explained that he was a [reserve] captain at the Sheriff’s Department but that the next time they saw him, he’d “be a commander”.
For all these reasons, as well as because he was apparently way behind on his minimum reserve hours, on his minimum training requirements, and more, Mehrabian was eventually encouraged to resign.
Which raises a number of interesting (troubling) questions…
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Why did Mehrabian survive Sheriff Scott’s purge of Friends Of the Sheriff reserves in 2014? And did it have anything to do with his significant donations to McDonnell around the same time?
We know Mehrabian donated to McDonnell’s last campaign. Did he also donate or steer money to McDonnell’s secretive political action committee?
Why was Mehrabian apparently referring to himself as a captain or commander, after Sheriff Scott eliminated the reserve chain of command (due to precisely such abuses)?
Why was Mehrabian apparently not fired immediately after the incident above (since, as a reservist, he had no civil service or POBR protection), but pushed to resign apparently months later? When any other deputy sheriff engaging in the same behavior would have been relieved of duty, terminated, and probably criminally filed on?
More interestingly, why–if he was rolled up a year ago, did he sponsor a luncheon for Sheriff McDonnell just three months ago?
Was he one of the FOS reserves who was secretly given fake Regular Deputy credentials two years ago, for apparently ego-stroking purposes? (And what ever happened with that IA…?)
Is it true Mehrabian has held pro-McDonnell fundraisers (plural) at his house?
Why is he now apparently representing himself in the community as someone who can connect people with McDonnell?
Why is he now reportedly offering to pay for services, apparently out of his own pocket, which would further McDonnell’s campaign agenda? These are things people in the community are telling us and our sources…
Is there any informal understanding between Mehrabian and McDonnell that, in exchange for his financial and political support, he will get his job back? After the election, perhaps?
If there isn’t, how to explain Mehrabian’s campaigning for McDonnell? How to explain McDonnell’s participating in Mehrabian’s campaigning?
Surely, Mehrabian wants his job (and carry permit) back. Assuming he doesn’t still have it. That’s understandable. Most Angelenos can’t get the privileges he’s enjoyed.
The real question is why McDonnell is keeping Mehrabian around.
Why is McDonnell–who wants nothing to do with actual, real life, crime-fighting deputy sheriffs, whether still working or already fired–holding campaign events and fundraisers with a donor recently terminated for getting into a crazy, illegal pursuit?
Are we really asking questions we don’t, like a good attorney, already know the answers to?
Let’s cut to the chase.
Is McDonnell stringing Mehrabian along because he just really needs the money? Or does he plans to reinstate him after the election?
And, either way, is his conduct honorable? Above-board? Transparent?
Isn’t this all the very definition of pay-for-play?