By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
WHILE BACA HAS DECLINED ANY PUBLIC comment on his loan, he's been vigorous in promoting the services of his lender from the time the loan was first discussed. The first public record of that effort dates from July 1, 1999, when he made an unusual request to the Board of Supervisors on behalf of Weiss and the Richland Group.
He wrote the board on Sheriff's Department letterhead, asking them to "authorize access to the Sheriff's Department facilities for the Richland Group, a Los Angelesbased mortgage banking firm, enabling them to make presentations to Sheriff's Department employees regarding low-cost residential loans" -- to let Richland, in other words, set up shop on the premises.
Under the heading "Justification," Baca played up the supposed benefits of the PRIDE Program: "competitively priced loans" with "no origination fees" and a free seven-year life-insurance policy for active-duty and retired cops.
Even earlier -- within weeks of taking office -- Baca made less formal gestures on behalf of Richland. Bud Treece, executive director of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), says that at his first meeting with the new administration, in early January 1999, Baca's assistant sheriff for patrol, Bill Stonich, "gave us some literature from the Richland Group and told us the sheriff was very interested in us meeting with this man."
Around the same time, Baca asked another union official to come to his fourth-floor suite at department headquarters. The official, Dennis Slocumb, president of the Professional Police Officers Association, which represents the department's sergeants and lieutenants, among others, was surprised and mildly appalled to find Bob Weiss waiting there with the sheriff, ready to peddle his wares. "It seems to me like an elected police leader should be above commercial endorsement of moneymaking ventures," he says. It was the only time Baca ever invited Slocumb to meet in his office.
Neither union, it turns out, had anywhere near Baca's enthusiasm for endorsing the program. "What we explained to Mr. Weiss, very politely," says Treece, "is that we do not as an institution endorse commercial products."
Baca got a similarly cool reaction from the Board of Supervisors. After weeks of ã inaction on his July 1 request, Baca approached David Jansen, the county's influential chief administrative officer, and asked him to meet with Weiss. Jansen says he agreed to the meeting "out of courtesy," but was unmoved by Weiss' pitch. "We don't generally do this for businesses," he told Baca, noting that he couldn't remember another instance where the board had approved such a plan. "Once you start opening the county to private business, you'll never be able to draw the line."
SUCH CONCERNS OVER THE PROPRIETY OF involving Weiss in official government business are only deepened by a review of Weiss' career. The public record contains no bombshell revelations regarding Weiss, but plenty of reasons why the state's top law-enforcement officials might be wary of aggressively promoting such a commercial enterprise.
Weiss made his name and his fortune in the rough-edged world of "hard money" lending -- making high-cost, high-risk loans to less-than-creditworthy borrowers. Before that, he was a top executive for controversial Beverly Hills businessman and socialite Uri Sheinbaum, who would later be convicted in a federal fraud case unrelated to his business with Weiss.
Sheinbaum hired Weiss in 1987 to help him run his Calmark Holdings corporation, where Weiss' first assignment was assisting in a controversial takeover-cum-bailout of the Northview Corp., a piece of leveraged-buyout king Ivan Boesky's troubled financial empire. That deal became mired in years of litigation.
Calmark made headlines again two years later, when the L.A. Business Journalgot hold of a story about campaign contributions to thenMayor Tom Bradley, whose top aides were pressing the Community Redevelopment Agency to grant Calmark exclusive negotiating rights to build a 1,741-room, $400 million hotel across the street from the L.A. Convention Center. That deal stalled over Calmark's demand for a $50-million-plus public subsidy, and collapsed in 1990 after Northview defaulted on $100 million in Drexel-Burnham junk bonds.
Judging by court files, Weiss developed a hard-nosed approach to business working alongside Sheinbaum. Weiss and other executives were once accused of improperly diverting corporate funds, according to a wrongful-discharge suit brought by a former employee. Weiss wrote a letter to the accuser warning her to keep quiet about company business. "There will be zero tolerance by the owners of this organization," Weiss wrote. "If you continue to try to address issues that are no longer of your concern, the results will be very unpleasant." The suit was ultimately dropped.
In the 10 years since he founded the Richland Group, Weiss has been accused in court papers of fraud, usury and running "loan to own" schemes to bilk borrowers out of their property. Most of the dozen-plus lawsuits brought against Weiss and the Richland Group have been quietly settled, with the parties bound to strict confidentiality agreements. "I'd love to tell you about the bastard, but I can't," says one source who wound up in court with Weiss. In one foreclosure case that went to trial, a court-appointed referee called Weiss' heavy-handed dealings "totally unconscionable."
Despite the rash of litigation, Weiss' name has surfaced only once in the press -- in 1994, after he arranged a $3 million loan for O.J. Simpson, then in custody for double murder. "Our customers are people who are busy, wealthy and don't want the hassle" of extended loan negotiations, Weiss told the Los Angeles Times. The paper reported that Richland's average loan was "about $1 million," and that its customers include "a former U.S. ambassador" and "a confidant of former President Reagan."