By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The make-over has failed to smooth all of Weiss' rough edges, however, and in his move to capture the state's huge and lucrative market of law-enforcement home loans, he has managed to alienate several top law-enforcement officials with his heavy-handed, sales tactics.
Take his dealings with the Police Memorial Fund, a Sacramento-based organization that honors California police officers slain in the line of duty. Last spring, Ted Hunt introduced Weiss to Al LeBas, executive director of the fund. Weiss, it seems, wanted to make a $5,000 contribution to sponsor a luncheon during the group's annual memorial ceremony in the state capital May 7 and 8. During the event, LeBas says, Weiss distributed promotional brochures for the PRIDE Program -- a major faux pas. "For many of us, the memorial is something solemn, something sacrosanct," LeBas says. "Mr. Weiss was told at the beginning that he was not to commercialize the memorial."
LeBas was willing to dismiss Weiss' crass behavior as a rookie mistake -- that is, until last month, when LeBas received a letter from one Lieutenant John McGuiness, from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office. McGuiness was writing to express his concern that, in a meeting to pitch the PRIDE Program to Sacramento County officials, Weiss not only invoked his support of the Police Memorial Fund but showed a video presentation that included footage of the group's memorial service.
LeBas was incensed, and he dashed off a cease-and-desist letter to Weiss promising that if Weiss persisted in abusing the fund's name, LeBas would denounce him to law-enforcement officials across the state. "We are upset," LeBas says. "Weiss was attempting to commercialize the fund again. None of the other sponsors had ever tried to do that before."
WEISS HAS SHOWN EQUALLY LITTLE CONcern for such niceties, and even less political sensitivity, in his wooing of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department rank-and-file officers. The difference, however, is that even as Weiss' aggressive sales tactics have landed himself and the sheriff in political hot water, Baca has stood gamely by his mortgage broker.
In April, Weiss placed an advertisement for the PRIDE Program in the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs newsletter. When ALADS's management discovered Weiss' ad, they instructed staff to have it pulled. The reason Richland's loan offer was not allowed to be advertised in the publication, according to executive director Treece, was that it competed with a similar program sponsored by the AFL-CIO. Besides, Treece says, the program "did not offer anything unique."
If Weiss thought his relationship with Baca would provide leverage with ALADS, he was badly mistaken. In fact, the union and Baca had been at odds since the association endorsed incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block in last year's election. ALADS had, in turn, accused Baca of exacting retribution by sponsoring a rival, upstart union, led by two deputies who worked on Baca's campaign, just as the union was beginning contract talks with the county.
"Sheriff Baca, his command staff, subordinates and agents," the union wrote in a July 6 complaint to the county's Employees Relations Commission, "have engaged in an orchestrated campaign with [the Los Angeles Sheriff's Professional Association, or LASPA] to interfere with, dominate, control and destabilize ALADS as an employee organization."
Despite the apparent delicacy of the situation, Weiss wasted no time approaching ALADS's rival union. Weiss took the LASPA board members out to dinner to sell them on the PRIDE Program, according to Scott McKenzie, LASPA's vice president, and made a point of recounting how rudely ALADS had treated him. Weiss said he could not financially compensate LASPA, but promised to donate $20 to the union's favorite charity for every loan issued in the department. Soon after, LASPA's home page featured a link to the PRIDE Program's Web page, and McKenzie became a PRIDE customer himself, getting a refinancing on his home.
It wasn't long before ALADS officials noticed the Weiss-LASPA relationship and seized upon it as another attempt by Baca to undermine their authority. In a letter to the Richland Group, and with calls to friends in the LAPD union, ALADS insisted that Weiss stop abetting LASPA. The pressure worked: Not only was the link removed from LASPA's Web page, Weiss became the bogeyman for a vocal segment of the department that opposes Baca.
"Bob is not very sophisticated in this arena," Kassel says. "He didn't know the sheriff was having some problems with the union, and he got caught up in it."
ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22, L.A.'S CIVIC ESTABlishment paid up to $25,000 for a table at the sixth annual Jack Webb Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Mayor Richard Riordan, LAPD Chief Bernard Parks, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Governor Gray Davis were all there in black tie and gowns. Tommy Lasorda, stuffed into a penguin suit, was the dinner chair; Jay Leno and Dennis Franz, among the evening's honorees, lent star caliber.
Among the evening's other honorees were Arthur Kassel and his wife, Tichi Wilkerson Kassel. Also on hand to celebrate was "special guest" Lee Baca. As were the PPL's Ted Hunt and Don Haidl, the latter an event co-chair. And Robert Weiss, who by this time had found himself a position on the awards ceremony's yearly planning committee.
It is, as Kassel says, a small fraternity.
Earlier this year, the sheriff moved to this rambling San Marino house . . .