By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“The Sheriff’s Department is a large, professional organization,” says former Cudahy City Attorney Michael Colantuono, who was fired by Perez. “But the city manager does not have as much control over the Sheriff’s Department . . . the sheriff won’t protect your friends or punish your enemies.”
Along with the Maywood Police Department came Maywood Club Towing. A mess ensued — at least in Maywood, which last week imploded in scandal. On February 13, under intense community pressure, the Maywood City Council unanimously voted to ask California Attorney General Jerry Brown to probe allegations of kickbacks to cops and city officials by Maywood Club Towing, as well as claims of police sexual and racial abuse. Among the accusations is that Maywood police flew to Las Vegas, courtesy of the towing company, getting free rooms and the services of prostitutes.
A spokesman for Brown said on Tuesday that the attorney general will defer to District Attorney Cooley, who announced last Friday that he has launched a criminal investigation of Maywood officials and police.
Last August, Maywood police officer Alfred Hutchings received anonymous letters at his office at Chapman ?University, where he works part-time as an ethics professor. The letters, copies of which were obtained by the Weekly, ?apparently were written by a Maywood Police Department ?whistleblower and contain graphic descriptions of racially and sexually abusive cops who were protected if they met quotas for impounding vehicles. The letters also accused two City Council members of taking kickbacks from Maywood Club Towing.
Hutchings turned the letters over to Maywood Police Chief Bruce Leflar, who in November named Hutchings to head the department’s professional-standards unit. But within a week, Leflar went on medical leave, according to an internal e-mail from Lieutenant Paul Pine, who, as the new ranking cop, promptly dismissed Hutchings.
The letters claim that Pine lived rent-free in an apartment in Maywood owned by the owners of Maywood Club Towing, and that many Maywood officers, including Pine, left previous jobs under pressure from superiors. According to civil rights lawyer Tom Barham, the new acting police chief, Richard Lyons, was promoted from patrol sergeant with no command experience or training, after leaving jobs with Santa Ana Park Police and the city of El Monte. “He’s no Audie Murphy,” Barham told a packed Maywood City Council hearing last Tuesday.
Sergeant Enrique Gonzalez, the Maywood Police Department’s official liaison to Cudahy, insisted to the Weekly recently that the allegations “are isolated to Maywood. In Cudahy the citizens want us there. They cooperate with us.”
In recent months the Weekly paid numerous visits to the Maywood Police Department to gather Cudahy crime statistics and ask about public safety. During one of our visits, in January, acting Maywood chief Lyons refused to discuss the Cudahy police contract or anything related to policing or public safety, referring all questions to the new Maywood city attorney, Francisco Leal, formerly of Leal & Olivas. (Leal’s former partner, David Olivas, served as Maywood city attorney until 2004.) The Weekly has called Leal for comment several times, but he has not responded.
Why did Cudahy want Maywood police and Maywood Club Towing in the first place, and why is Cudahy City Manager George Perez satisfied with them amid all the problems?
The Weekly confirmed with Perez that several of the officers named in the anonymous letters to Hutchings have policed the streets of Cudahy, including a current motorcycle officer named Florencio Mesa. Mesa stands publicly accused of sexual misconduct, and also is known as a prolific ticket writer, racking up some 100 impounds a month, which brings in $100,000 in revenue, according to the letters. Perez acknowledges Mesa’s ticket-writing prowess but says the allegations against Mesa are “out of character.”
Perez says that in Cudahy, people don’t tolerate bad police behavior. But some residents are extremely unhappy with the job Maywood police are doing in Cudahy.
Three months ago, 15-year-old Joseph Garcia was shot and killed on Santa Ana Street, less than 100 yards from Cudahy City Hall. Perez was at the scene when police arrived, and he received an earful from Garcia’s father, according to police sources, who say Garcia’s father was blaming Perez for his son’s death — not enough Maywood police patrolling the streets. Perez, when asked by the Weeklyabout the father's anger, replies dismissively, “People are always looking for someone to blame.”
Two weeks later, with residents still shocked by the City Hall–adjacent killing, a Neighborhood Watch meeting attracted 200 people — but crime was never discussed. Instead, Perez presided over a surreal pep rally featuring “happy birthday” sing-alongs, rounds of applause for new parents, sales pitches from Herbalife and New York Life, and a gift raffle.
For two hours, nobody mentioned murdered teenager Joseph Garcia, or street violence. The most pressing matter raised was speed bumps. “That’s how George plays it,” Sheriff’s Sergeant Martinez says. “He’s into petting puppies and kissing babies.”
Perez urges folks to call him with problems, but one woman went too far and ended up with an unwanted visit from Maywood police and a vandalized car. After the odd Neighborhood Watch meeting last November, the woman reminded Perez that he had advised her to call police about young men loitering outside her apartment, a chemical smell she thought was related to drugs, and strangers suspiciously running into the building from idling cars.
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