Tag: Corruption

Deputy Pleads Guilty To Drug Trafficking

Deputy Kenneth Collins, who was arrested earlier this year, pled guilty Monday to a charge of drug trafficking after being caught by the FBI offering to use his LASD badge to escort narcotics across state lines. The Los Angeles Times has the story.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

Ironically, Collins met one of his co-conspirators, Grant Valencia, while Collins was an instructor in the “Emerging Leaders Academy”–a program to help criminals turn their lives around. Valencia was his student.

“Law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold the law, which is why we hold them to a higher standard of conduct… Deputy Collins didn’t just break the law, he trampled his oath by agreeing to sell his badge to assist drug traffickers,” U.S. attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

Collins grew up in South Central Los Angeles, served in the U.S. military, then joined the Sheriff’s Department and was assigned to Lennox Station, though LNX deputies told LASD.News they could hardly remember him and shake their heads at his actions. Collins was most recently assigned to Countywide Services Bureau, before he left the department shortly after his January arrest.

 

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McDonnell Pal Said To Get County Ride for Raising Campaign Cash

The head of Jim McDonnell’s secretive 2014 political independent expenditure committee was rewarded for steering McDonnell nearly $400,000 in campaign cash with a take-home patrol car and status as Queen Bee of LASD’s reserves, an LASD watchdog reported Friday night.

In fact, we understand Skobin may be the only reserve to have a county car, regularly gassed up at Santa Clarita Station.

Full credit to Surruo.com for breaking this news. We cannot independently confirm it, though we do understand there is photo and documentary evidence. We also understand from county sources the vehicle is either assigned to Skobin personally or is assigned, on paper to the Taskforce for Regional Auto-Theft Prevention but that Skobin gets virtually exclusive use of it and has often been seen driving and gassing it. (How many full-time TRAP deputies get a county ride?)

This, six years after the LA Times reported similar corruption afoot under Sheriff Baca.

Alan Skobin, whose day job is General Counsel of Galpin Motors (a huge donor to McDonnell and other politicians under the Galpin name, the Skobin family name, as well as the Boeckman family which owns Galpin), first became chummy with McDonnell when Skobin was an LAPD commissioner and McDonnell a member of the LAPD brass.

Skobin has been an LASD reserve deputy for many years. Though LASD.News doesn’t know him, we know he is generally well liked and none of this is to take away from whatever he has legitimately done on the department. But he also has outsized access and influence, which is directly related to his political and financial relationship with Sheriff McDonnell.

In fact, Skobin ran McDonnell’s secretive 2014 political action committee, the “Friends of Jim McDonnell 2014“. He has also been active in supporting McDonnell this cycle.

In 2004, after all the pay-for-play that went on during the Baca years, McDonnell touted his refusal to accept donations from department employees or vendors (though he gladly took money bundled by such characters). Generally, vendor and shady money instead flowed through Skobin’s PAC, which spent it on billboards (see below), radio ads and even more radio ads. Such donors were then rewarded with access to McDonnell at his election night bash, swearing in ceremony and other fancy events.

Examples of questionable donors to McDonnell’s PAC include:

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Once McDonnell was in office, Skobin was made Chief in charge of the “Reserve Leadership Team,” with direct access to McDonnell, often outside the chain of command.

Indeed, just three days ago, after LASD.News reported on how Sheriff McDonnell has destroyed LASD’s reserve program, we understand the Office of the Sheriff gave Skobin special access to send all reserves a defense of McDonnell through county systems to their personal email addresses. In the letter, which you can find here, Skobin defends McDonnell’s abuse of the reserve program and quibbles with a couple inaccuracies in our reporting to dismiss our overall conclusion that the reserve program is far weaker than it was four years ago.

In fact, LASD.News spoke with several reservists recently, with one saying of the current mood among LASD’s reserves:

“Everybody is laying-low, trying not to get fired.”

Sounds about how the regular deputies feel.

So, what did we get wrong in that article (with no access to official department resources)?

  • LASD reserves have decreased about 25% in three years, not 50%. However, this was after about 60 reserves were terminated by Interim Sheriff John Scott just prior to McDonnell’s taking office, so figuring that in, it’s about 30%.
  • Skobin quibbles with how many reserves are assigned to patrol versus search and rescue. But our numbers were clearly approximate. The real point was that out of 600 reserves, how many are actually, regularly going 10-8 and serving the community in a meaningful way on patrol? We think that number is pretty low. Figure each station has maybe 2-3 adding real value, so figure maybe 50 countywide. Morale and engagement are far lower now than they were 3-4 years ago.
  • And while Skobin suggests the approximately 200 reserves who have left in the last three years were bad/political apples, he fails to reconcile how many hard-working reserves have left or been forced out with how many ones with political juice (like himself or McDonnell donor Onnik Mehrabian) remained.
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    Skobin With Sheriff Baca At The Height of the Pandora’s Box Federal Investigation (2013)

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    Skobin Receiving An Award on Behalf of Donor Galpin Motors (2012)
  • We’re also not sure about LAPD’s reserve CCW issuance rules today. The LAPD reservists we know say they did not need CCWs because department policy allowed them to carry without it. Skobin says that’s not true. We’re not sure. Frankly, we don’t really care. LASD’s reserve program has been the leading program in the country for decades and LAPD shouldn’t be a model.The point is that we are hearing from numerous duly sworn and trained reserve deputy sheriffs that it’s gotten far harder to legally protect themselves off-duty in the last six months.Is it true or is not true that reserves are being made to meet a “good cause” threshold to receive a CCW, despite the fact that they are deputy sheriffs? And are peace officers being told they have failed to articulate “good cause” and are being denied?And if CCWs are not being issued to deputy sheriffs, what is the likelihood they are essentially being forced to carry illegally?

The reserve program is far weaker than it was four years ago. And we bet the state of the program and how it can be made better has gotten a lot more attention in the last two weeks since our reporting than in the four years before it.

(You’re welcome.)

 

Is McDonnell Illegally Using Tax Dollars To Campaign?

Confident that voter apathy would assure his reelection on June 5, Sheriff McDonnell has spent the last year feeling that needing to make his case for another four years was beneath him. He has no apparent campaign team or events, no platform (beyond more of the same), he’s blown off all candidate debates, his website remains terrible, and we honestly have not seen a single bumper sticker, yard sign or other evidence of voter enthusiasm for him anywhere, countywide, at-all.

“Incumbent Los Angeles County sheriffs are generally unassailable at reelection time, boasting a clear advantage in name recognition and fundraising prowess,” the LA Times recently wrote. “Yet McDonnell’s challengers have done remarkably well.”

Rocked by Alex Villanueva’s locking up the endorsement of Los Angeles County Democrats and many neighborhood Democratic clubs, and Bob Lindsey’s both beating him in fundraising and supporter enthusiasm, as well as gaining the endorsements of many who backed McDonnell four years ago, McDonnell has begun to panic. After all, a half million dollars per year is on the line!

How else to explain his obviously using LASD resources to campaign in recent weeks and, in particular, over the last several days:

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s the thing. It’s illegal for the sheriff to use taxpayer resources–including Sheriff’s Information Bureau–to campaign for office. And, as we saw under the last sheriff, it’s illegal for department members to commit crimes on the sheriff’s behalf. It makes no difference if they were told to–just following orders.

LASD.News encourages local media outlets to file public record requests with the LASD regarding the recent increase in the sheriff’s use of county PR resources, including access to the emails of his spinmeister Carol Lin and PIO Nicole Nishida, which might also shed a light into whether the sheriff’s response to the Rolling Hills homicide has been politically motivated. And perhaps while you’re at it, you might also ask for the sheriff’s schedule, a log of which vehicle he used to get to political events, and any records that his campaign reimbursed the county for the political use of taxpayer dollars.

Pay-For-Play? McDonnell Has Given LA Times Nearly $200K.

According to an LA County database, Sheriff McDonnell has paid the Los Angeles Times nearly $200,000 in advertising between this election and the last–including $60,000 THIS MONTH for what we assume will be a newspaper wrap or insert tomorrow or next weekend.

The LA Times has been in financial trouble for a long time and $200K could pay for 2-3 reporters for a year. Has McDonnell shoving cash down the Times’ knickers incentivized them to cover him more favorably?

We don’t know. Are politicians swayed by those who donate to their campaigns?

But we digress. What we DO KNOW is that the Times endorsed McDonnell, despite devoting their entire editorial to listing all the ways he has been a complete, abject failure. (That endorsement promptly went up on McDonnell’s website.)

We also know that despite this and other sites publishing nearly 200 articles in the last few months about LASD’s corrupt mismanagement, and a vote of no confidence in McDonnell by LASD deputies, not a single bit of it made it into the Times story this week apologizing for how little McDonnell has gotten done. What explains this?

It’s also noteworthy that the Times failed to reveal to its readers in these stories and editorials that McDonnell helps pay their bills.

Remember: Newspapers are a business. The Sheriff’s Department is a public trust.

 

Pay-For-Play? Why Is A Glendale Used Car Salesman and LASD Reserve One of McDonnell’s Biggest Donors?

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?

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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?

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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Which brings us to an incident of highly questionable FOS judgment that went down in Glendale.  Not this one; a different one.

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.

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“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?

Corruption Alleged at LASD Crime Lab

In case you missed it, Surruo had another incredible piece of reporting out Tuesday about how the LASD’s world-leading crime lab has not had a working mass spectrometer since 2013 (CSI shit, used to identify minute amounts of chemicals/molecules left behind at the scene of a crime)–and has, instead, been paying the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to do its mass spectrometry for the LASD.

Surruo is alleging it’s very likely LASD has paid Orange County more in testing, transportation of evidence, personnel, etc., than it would have cost to just buy a replacement machine for itself.  And that this is mismanagement at best and a corrupt favor on behalf of Sheriff McDonnell to Sheriff Scott at quite possibly.

Surruo has a bunch of stuff linked directly from their site and we’re not going to steal their thunder, so we encourage you to check out their account.

Whether there was corruption or not, there can be no doubt of McDonnell’s disregard for the waste and misappropriation of public funds–whether it’s his $100,000 luxury SUV, $1.5+ million in chauffeurs, $300,000-$1,000,000 in belt snaps and buckles (once staff costs are included), $100K+ in decals, a $45,000 staff meeting along majestic Lake Arrowhead (*not* including the time of those in attendance, their transportation, supplies, etc.) , and the beat goes on.

A new mass spectrometer for the crime lab would have cost less than the snaps and buckles.  And who knows what LA County has paid (all-in) for Orange County to do our job for us?

Maybe someone will look into that.

LASD Announces $40 Million Budget Deficit–But Case For Even More Money Isn’t So Clear

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is running a $40 million deficit on its $3.2 billion budget, the county’s CEO announced on Tuesday.

That’s $40,000,000 out of $3,200,000,000.  Lots and lots of zeroes.

A major cause for the deficit is $260 million in overtime spending–twice what was planned for–with another $100 million in cost overruns on the way due to retiree healthcare and workers compensation costs.

This news coming over three years and millions of dollars wasted into Sheriff McDonnell’s term.  And without any apparent media probing re why workers compensation costs are up–including why-oh-why 37 office-dwelling lieutenants, captains and commanders are allegedly out injured.

Here’s a link to the report itself.

As anyone familiar with the Sheriff’s Department knows, because the department is so severely understaffed (with approximately 1,500 fewer deputies than it should have), it is heavily reliant on forcing deputies/giving deputies the opportunity to work overtime (depending on how you look at it) in order to meet minimum staffing.

While LASD sure could use any more money the Board of Supervisors wants to throw its way, the problem is that even deputies know we have a credibility problem suggesting we need more money because they know we aren’t spending what we already have wisely:

  • The sheriff spends at least $2 million per year (5% of the deficit) on his personal chauffeurs.  This is real tax money and the sheriff has no credibility in asking the board for a bigger budget when he spends tax money like a Saudi prince.
  • Significant bloating of management, including:
    • 27 Commanders, 74 Captains, 387 Lieutenants, plus 16 Chiefs, Assistant Sheriffs, and Sheriff/Undersheriff plus a bunch of civilian directors…maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of whom have a county Charger with county gas
    • The annual total compensation alone for all these non-enforcement personnel is probably over $200 million.
  • And then there are the hundreds of personnel assigned to unnecessary, non-enforcement positions.  Not just the sheriff’s personal drivers–but in assignments which are nice-to-have if you’ve got the money, but unnecessary (at least to be performed by sworn staff) if you don’t.  Examples here might include the International Liaison unit, the Video Unit, in audit functions, the new Lieutenant assigned to the Office of the Sheriff, etc.  There are hundreds of deputies all over the department who could be more valuably pushing hoops and fighting crime than doing whatever they’re doing now–and we owe it to the taxpayers to stop wasting their money before demanding more.

What examples of wasteful spending can you cite?

The Sheriff’s Department’s first responsibility is to protect the public.  Yet McDonnell is starving patrol and custody of the resources to keep the public safe and redirecting those funds to build a bureaucracy.  Now he wants the public to pay for actual public safety twice.

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But here’s the other thing: the Sheriff is now whining all over town about how about how “tough” it is to recruit.  And the Board of Supervisors has approved a plan to pay a consultant a bunch of money to tell him why and design a better system (similar to the $297 million plan the Border Patrol just got approved).  Yet he has no interest in the real reasons why he’s (we’re) having such a hard time (and the other politicians and media aren’t holding his feet to the fire, either).

Do we really need a consultant to tell us why people aren’t applying, or aren’t getting hired, and what should be done about it?  REALLY?!  Our 500 lieutenants and above couldn’t figure it out?

“He completely ignored it, and when you do that it has catastrophic results,” Bob Lindsey (candidate for sheriff and previously responsible for LASD recruiting), told KPCC National Public Radio.

In fact, the Department could have been doing many things over the past four years to increase its ability to recruit applicants and (more importantly) actually hire good deputy sheriffs.  Here are just a few basic ideas which were certainly proposed to the sheriff and he refused/failed to pursue:

  1. The biggest thing the sheriff could have done is to foster an environment where people want to work.  An environment where people are rewarded for working.  LASD should–and can–be a place where people will accept being paid less than somewhere else in order to work in the big leagues and have a career of amazing experiences.  They’ve been doing it for years.  But when you see thousands of deputies being fired or having their careers destroyed by civilian lawyers and internal political shenanigans, people don’t want to put themselves in that position.
  2. Stop telling existing personnel they have a responsibility to recruit people to LASD.  They don’t–and they aren’t, because they don’t think its morally right to encourage people to make life mistakes.  Instead, ask deputies what stops them from encouraging people to apply here and fix the things they cite.
  3. Actively pursuing EXISTING DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEES including civilian Law Enforcement Technicians, Custody Assistants and Reserve Deputies (all of which the agencies we are competing against for talent aggressively pursue and fast-track).
  4. Stop viewing our high disqualification rate (96%?) as a good thing.  Yes, it’s good the public know we are selective.  But a failure rate that high also suggests we are doing a poor job recruiting the right talent, retaining the interest of the right talent, getting them through the process, and possibly that disqualification quotas are present in the system.

The fact is, there are still a lot of people who want to be cops.  Despite the bad media environment, cowardly politicians and good economy.  It’s a noble and exciting profession…and cops in Southern California make great money (many, significantly more than they would in the private sector).  The sad fact is that many people simply don’t want to be deputies at LASD, because of what they have heard and what they see.  And that we badly mistreat many of those who apply here anyway.

“Come to LASD, where you have one badge but unlimited opportunities.  And then when you do your job, we’ll find a reason to hang you out to dry!”  Gee, can’t imagine why our numbers are down and applicants’ first choices are Torrance, Santa Ana, Glendale, Anaheim, Beverly Hills, SBSO…

We don’t need an expensive consultant to tell us these things.  We need a new sheriff to.  And we’ll have that chance on June 5.