Comment: Murder Most Foul 

Thursday, May 17 2012

Last week's feature, "Murder on Montana Avenue" by Tessa Stuart, explored the death of LAUSD art teacher Sasha Merman. Among other facts uncovered by Stuart: Merman met his alleged killer, financial planner Daniel Becceril, at a school meeting where Becceril pitched teachers on how he could invest their 403(b) retirement accounts. Also of note? The revelation that Becceril continued to work as a financial planner — and allegedly continued to scam clients — for four years after Merman's murder.

Writes Fishouttawater, "I'm baffled by how long it took Santa Monica Police and prosecutors to arrest this scam artist and alleged murderer. Four years to close a case? Unacceptable." He adds, "Nice piece of reporting."

We also heard from Alan Warhaftig, a teacher at Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts and a member of the LAUSD Retirement Investment Oversight Committee. He takes issue with our contention that the LAUSD bulletin banning 403(b) salespeople like Becceril from campuses was an empty gesture. "The bulletin is not an empty gesture, any more than laws against robbery or murder, which are also violated," Warhaftig writes. "The new bulletin is LAUSD policy. If a campus administrator (or clerk or union chapter chair) invites a salesperson of financial products on campus, it is now, unambiguously, a violation of LAUSD policy. Before the revised bulletin was issued, employee groups were permitted to invite these salespeople to address their meetings on campus. They also came on campus improperly invited by others or simply at their own initiative.

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"School personnel have to be educated about this change in policy and reminded that adherence to this policy is a requirement of their job. Even more importantly, LAUSD employees need to be educated about retirement savings and the dreadful quality of products these pizza-wielding salespeople offer. According to the most recent data, LAUSD employees (and retirees) have almost $2 billion invested in 403(b) accounts with approved vendors; 95.5 percent of the accounts and 92 percent of the dollars are with high-cost vendors represented by those salespeople. LAUSD's employees are being robbed blind. If they had invested with one of the three low-cost vendors, the total value of accounts would be far greater than $2 billion."

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