City Attorney Conceals LBPD Overtime Fraud

By: 
Stephen Downing

In Part One of this two part series the Beachcomber reported the story of Christopher Williams’ inexplicable experience with the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), the Citizen’s Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) and the City Attorney’s office after the 35-year old African American city bus driver suffered a broken arm at the hands of the LBPD and subsequently filed a complaint alleging excessive force, unlawful detention and failure to obtain medical treatment.

The article exposed how City Hall’s so-called “separate and independent” internal complaint investigation process amounts to nothing more than a deceitful public relations ruse perpetrated upon the community.

The story also explained why the Beachcomber filed a lawsuit to compel production of the investigative records surrounding William’s complaint following City Attorney Charles Parkin’s contrived decision to refuse release of the internal investigative records as required by Senate Bill 1421.

The Beachcomber lawsuit involved two separate refusals by the city attorney to release public records.

Letter from Jail Personnel

Events leading up to the city’s second pubic records refusal involving a SB 1421 based request began two years ago (Oct. 5, 2017) when the Beachcomber received an anonymous letter from LBPD jail personnel.

The open letter, addressed to the city auditor, human resources director, chief of police, personnel administrator, internal affairs and taxpayers, began: “We are writing this letter so that you’re all aware of what has been going on in our/your city jail. In the month of July (2017) we brought up some concerns to the city and (the) police administration and so far the issues continue.”

The writer(s), protesting a memorandum from Chief Robert Luna mandating that internal personnel issues be conveyed through the chain of command, asked “How could we (follow the chain of command) when we bring up concerns or issues (and) all we get in return are threats? What do we do when the problem is the chain of command?”

The letter continued, “Chief Luna, maybe you should take a good look in your jail and ask yourself why people are leaving the jail so fast and why are they retiring without any notice. They want to remove themselves as quickly as possible from this toxic environment.”

The letter described in detail the specifics of the “toxic environment” by reciting accounts of failed leadership, deputy-chief-level favored employees being untouchable, lack of training, callous, retaliatory supervision and unearned crony-related promotions.

Criminal Fraud Scheme

The jail personnel concluded their open letter by exposing an ongoing criminal conspiracy – condoned and practiced by top ranking LBPD administrative personnel – to commit overtime fraud.

The employee(s) alleged that the fraudulent scheme was designed and put into practice by Sergeant Louis Perez and approved by Tom Behrens, the civilian jail administrator to whom Perez reported.

The letter stated that when Sgt. Perez tried to involve several subordinate sergeants in his overtime scheme, they told him “No, that [the scheme] was fraud and they were not going to be a part of it.”

The open message continued, “That‘s the reason some of the booking sergeants retired because of all the nonsense and fraud that was going on. They said they wanted no part of it and that they were all honest throughout their careers and that (the overtime scheme) was stealing from the city.”

The letter ended with a question: “What are we now, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department with Lee Baca and Tanaka running things here in the Long Beach City Jail?” – a reference to the Los Angles County Sheriff’s jail scandal that landed undersheriff Paul Tanka in federal prison and his boss, Sheriff Lee Baca, convicted of federal crimes and currently awaiting an appeal to his prison sentence.

The jail personnel also made reference to a retired sergeant, Julie Anderson, who, according to public records obtained by the Beachcomber, retired from city service 30 days prior to the letter being written.

The letter described Anderson as a victim of threats from the top jail administrative staff that prevented her from properly supervising subordinates protected by LBPD brass even higher up the chain.

Our Investigation

When the Beachcomber began to investigate the fraudulent overtime abuses alleged in the letter, two confidential LBPD sources independently stated that Sgt. Anderson, as well as another jail supervisor, Sgt. Salvador Solorzano, had been solicited by Sgt. Perez to participate in his fraudulent overtime scheme and that each of the sergeants refused, informed Perez that his scheme was illegal and both reported Perez’ criminal enterprise though Chief Luna’s chain of command to no avail.

The Beachcombers sources also stated that Anderson and Solorzano became aware that Perez had successfully enlisted two other booking sergeants to take part in his scheme in spite of the fact that both had been previously warned the plot was illegal.

For the purpose of this article (and until the Beachcomber is successful in its lawsuit to obtain the internal investigation reports) the two booking sergeants involved in the Perez conspiracy will be referred to as Sgt. G and Sgt. S. as our efforts to reach out to both Sergeants Anderson and Solorzano for direct confirmation has been unsuccessful.

A year passed until the Beachcomber began to receive bits and pieces from inside sources indicating that pressures upon the LBPD administration had finally resulted in an investigation being initiated.

In Feb. 2019, LBPD sources informed the Beachcomber that the LBPD civilian jail administrator, Thomas Behrens, a retired Orange County Sheriff’s captain hired by the LBPD in Feb. 2016 to oversee city jail operations had been terminated as a result of the investigation.

At that time, SB 1421 was in effect but the city attorney had placed an arbitrary hold on honoring public records requests under the new law pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general, making it impossible for the Beachcomber to obtain the investigative documents.

In late May 2019, the Beachcomber learned from its sources that Sgt. Louis Perez had been terminated and that Sgt. G. and Sgt. S. had received minimal suspensions, were permitted to retain their sergeant rank and continued to supervise subordinates – most all of who are aware of their criminal activity.

By this time City Attorney Charles Parkin had lifted his self-initiated ban on releasing SB 1421 based public records requests (PRA).

City Attorney Obstructs SB 1421

The Beachcomber filed a PRA requesting all records involving Thomas Behrens, Sgt. Perez, Sgt. G and Sgt. S related to the filing and approval of false overtime reports as well as reports from LBPD personnel who exposed their criminal conspiracy, including those reported by Sergeants Anderson and Solorzano.

The Beachcombers Public Records Request (PRA) relied upon the language of SB 1421 that requires the city to release documents when a personnel investigation meets the following criteria:

“Any record relating to an incident in which a sustained finding was made by any law enforcement agency or oversight agency of dishonesty by a peace officer or custodial officer directly relating to the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of a crime, or directly relating to the reporting of, or investigation of misconduct by, another peace officer or custodial officer, including, but not limited to, any sustained finding of perjury, false statements, filing false reports, destruction, falsifying, or concealing of evidence.”
The deputy city attorney (DCA) assigned to review the Beachcombers PRA denied the request for the SB 1421 authorized records by rendering an opinion that rearranged the structure and meaning of the statute, stating:

“Cases of dishonesty under SB 1421 are limited to perjury, false statements, false reports, destruction of evidence, falsifying evidence, or concealing evidence for: (1) an officer directly relating to his or her duties in the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of a crime, or (2) an officer when being dishonest about another officer’s misconduct directly related to the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of a crime.”

When Parkin’s deputy was asked why her exercise of discretion did not honor the spirit and letter of the law or consider the public interest, the DCA stated, “That’s a good question.” A moment later she added, “We have an obligation to protect our employees.”

One of the LBPD insiders who contributed to this story said of the DCA’s legal opinion: ”The city attorney’s office is creating the toxic environment within the department by helping them cover up retaliation, corruption and incompetence rather than correct it.”

The insider added that it has been her observation, since implementation of SB 1421, that the LBPD now categorizes sustained dishonesty complaints as “conduct unbecoming’ when choosing not to terminate a sworn employee for dishonesty in order to circumvent compliance with SB 1421 PRA requests as well as evade court ordered discovery motions made by defense attorneys seeking to evaluate officer credibility and its probable influence upon court testimony.

The legislative imperative established in the text of SB 1421 declares that: “The public has a strong, compelling interest in law enforcement transparency because it is essential to having a just and democratic society.”

The Beachcomber and its attorney, Thomas Beck of the Beck Law firm, found the city attorney’s rational for denial in the jail overtime fraud case to be a contrived and dishonest avoidance of the requirements of SB 1421 and thus decided to sue the city in order to force compliance.

In an effort to best satisfy the public interest prior to filing the lawsuit, the Beachcomber filed additional PRA requests aimed at verifying as much of the information provided by inside LBPD sources as possible.

In doing so, the Beachcomber was able to establish the following through public records:

  • Jail Administrator Thomas Behrens was separated from city service on Feb. 21, 2019. Behrens’ management position does not allow for the payment of overtime.
  • Sgt. Louis Perez was separated from city service on April 24, 2019.
  • According to Transparent California compensation records for 2017 and 2018 Sgt. Perez was paid a cumulative total of $94,550 in overtime.
  • According to Transparent California compensation records for 2017 and 2018 Sgt. S was paid a cumulative total of $119,825 in overtime.
  • According to Transparent California compensation records for 2017 and 2018 Sgt. G. was paid a cumulative total of $23,409 in overtime.
  • In response to the Beachcomber PRA’s the city reported that there are no responsive records that indicate any monies have been reimbursed to the city nor do any agreements exist between the city and Perez, Sgt. G or Sgt. S to reimburse overtime funds obtained by fraudulent means.

In May, 2019 the Beachcomber asked Chief Luna’s spokesperson (#1) if the police department presented the internal investigation to the District Attorney for criminal filing.

The spokesperson’s response was: “Ask the district attorney.”

On Oct. 4 the same request was made to the head deputy (DDA) representing District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s Justice System Integrity Division.

On Oct. 8 the DDA responded, “We have checked with several of our units and none of them have said a case was presented. I recommend contacting the LBPD again and ask them if a case was presented and where.”

On Oct. 8. the Beachcomber left a message with Chief Luna’s office assistant outlining the DDA’s recommendation and once again posed the question.

Chief Luna’s spokesperson (#2) responded via email: “The department is still reviewing the matter and is not able to respond at this time. However, the Long Beach Police Department may conduct simultaneous, but separate criminal and administrative investigations when appropriate and present the findings to a prosecuting authority at the suitable time.”

On Sept. 11, the Beachcomber filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate with the Superior Court to enforce the Public’s right to receive previously denied records related to the Christopher Williams excessive force complaint (Part One) and the LBPD jail operations overtime criminal fraud conspiracy reported here.

The first court hearing will be held in Department 82 of the Los Angeles Superior Court at the Stanley Mosk Court House, 111 N. Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2020 at 9:30 a.m.

Should the Beachcomber prevail a follow-up article will be provided to our readers, all of whom are rightfully entitled to the full transparency afforded by SB 1421 as required of those who govern our city.

If any LBPD personnel are held accountable under the criminal law for the overtime fraud reported here, the Beachcomber will provide that information as well.

 

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

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Comments

Why are we still allowing this piece of S..t COP Luna to stay in his position, he is another Baca that needs to be locked up!!! He is leading a corrupt criminal origination, he needs to be FIRED!!! Why are we allowing this corrupt city council and city attorney office to cover up this criminal behavior..Time after Time their criminal activity is discovered and nothing is done, we the tax payer have to pay for their conduct and we never hold them accountable, what will it take for the LBC to say enough!!! we deserve a corrupt free City.. lets raise up LBC..

Police Chief Luna's is not an elected position. He reports to the City Manager who in turn reports to City Council and the Mayor. Luna is in his position because he does exactly what the Mayor and City Council want from him. Until those elected official come under pressure for supporting Luna's complicity, expect little to be done. I suspect it will get worse before it begins to get better.

It now appears LBPD brass choose to not discipline officers for their illegal conduct to avoid having to share the findings of their investigation with the public per SB 1421. Obviously, this corruption of SB 1421 is an unintended consequence. Nobody envisioned the LBPD would intentionally employ criminals in order to avoid public disclosure of an out of control department.

Wow. This is nuts. How did it get this bad?

From the LA Times, A LB city employee was prosecuted for stealing from the city "Prosecutors say Mutrais embezzled more than $100,000 by mishandling cash transactions at the Long Beach Animal Care Services Bureau from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 1, 2010" I Guess the PD employee (COPS) are held to different standers (they are allowed to steal from the city). Maybe these officers (Sgt) are giving kick backs to LUNA.and his hand picked Adim. Federal investigation in to this corrupt PD should be conducted. RISE UP LBC

From the OC Breeze..In February of 2018, detectives from the Long Beach Police Department’s Financial Crimes Detail began conducting a lengthy theft investigation.The suspect was an employee of the business when he falsified invoices between the years of 2015-2017 embezzling over $425,000. The suspect was identified as 50-year-old David Bruce Higgins,". This man was arrested. Question to Chief LUNA, Are "invoices" not the same as an 'Overtime slip" that PD employee fill out? Luna did nothing to them but put these thieves to patrol our streets, take care LBC citizen when they show up at your house. Can you say "DOUBLE STANDARD" . Rise up LBC

This is a merry-go-round gone haywire. The immediate past city manager, his deputy, the chief of police, POA, the city attorney and his subordinate attorneys, and the city council are all guilty of covering up illegal activity within the ranks of our police. This is a serial case of obstruction carried out for decades. It includes officer involved shootings where evidence is systematically quashed and destroyed to protect dirty cops from the law. Our elected representatives turn their united backs on bad conduct by police. This is enough to make Long Beach citizens dizzy. It is how management has gotten away with this crooked enterprise for so long. We need outside help to straighten this out. We need the citizens to rise up and send the above named officials packing.

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