The L.A. Coliseum scandal came to light by accident.
In April 2010, Maria Rodriguez was cleaning the bleachers after a religious event at the L.A. Sports Arena when she stepped on a loose piece of plywood and fell seven feet to the floor. She landed on her neck and back, suffering two herniated discs. She was making minimum wage and could not pay her medical bills.
She worked for Tony Estrada, who ran the janitorial company contracted to clean the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and the Sports Arena. He did not want to pay her bills, either — or report the injury to the workers' compensation system, which would cause his premiums to go up. He believed the Coliseum was at fault.
Estrada told her to send the bills to Pat Lynch, the Coliseum's general manager. But Lynch also refused to pay, arguing that Estrada should be held responsible because the woman worked for him.
Had they been able to resolve the matter amicably, it might all have ended there. Instead, the conflict led to a rift that would expose systemic graft at the Coliseum, destroying Lynch's career and sending Estrada into hiding in South America. A grand jury investigation ultimately led to charges of bribery, embezzlement and conspiracy against a half-dozen defendants, including Lynch, his erstwhile golden boy and two of the top promoters in the electronic dance music industry.
Two years after the accident, Rodriguez, 44, still walks with a cane. Sitting on the bed in her small efficiency apartment in South L.A., she says she is angry that Estrada wrote her a check for $500 — a mere fraction of her expenses — and told her not to file a workers' comp claim. She calls him "un mentiroso" — a liar.
Estrada, 72, eventually was persuaded to report the injury. But he remained angry at Lynch, once a close friend. Estrada had been amassing grievances about how Lynch ran the Coliseum. Now he had finally had enough. He told people he was going to "burn the whole place down."
In June 2010, he called the vice president of the Coliseum Commission to make a report. Over the next few months, Estrada sent several rambling faxes in which he claimed to be paying kickbacks to Lynch. He also alleged that Lynch's right-hand man was getting money on the side from rave promoters.
The Coliseum scandal had begun.
The L.A. Coliseum and Sports Arena once were the center of the city's professional sports landscape, hosting the Lakers, the Clippers, the Rams and the Raiders.
But one by one those teams left, leaving the USC Trojans as the only long-term tenant. The facilities deteriorated, both physically and financially, relying on concerts and religious festivals just to stay in business.
Pat Lynch's strategy to fix those problems was a Hail Mary: Bring back the NFL.
Lynch, the general manager, believed the NFL would invest hundreds of millions of dollars to save the Coliseum. But the league might also save Pat Lynch.
Without it, he would be at a professional dead end: completely dependent on USC, with which he had a strained relationship. But if he were to land an NFL team, Lynch would instantly become a big-league player in professional sports, with a shot at a more lucrative job with the new franchise.
Lynch chased that dream for more than a decade, neglecting day-to-day Coliseum operations in the process. But when that dream fell through, in 2006, Lynch began looking for other ways to cash in. Neglect turned into corruption.
When he arrived in Los Angeles in 1994, Lynch was still a young man full of ambition. Originally from Massachusetts, he had made a name for himself managing the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, N.Y.
"He kind of hit the town by storm," recalls James Coyne Jr., the Albany County executive who spearheaded the development of the arena. "He made his rounds of the Chamber of Commerce members. Saratoga's a big summertime place to be with the horse racing, and he would shoot up there for parties."
Coyne later would be convicted on federal bribery and conspiracy charges for accepting a $30,000 payment from the architect who designed the arena. But no allegations from that time ever surfaced about Lynch. When Spectacor, the private venue manager hired to run the Knickerbocker, transferred Lynch to L.A., he had an unblemished reputation.
The same could not be said for the Coliseum Commission, the ungainly, nine-member panel made up of representatives of the city, county and state, which controls the Coliseum and Sports Arena. The commission was widely despised by sports fans for failing to take the steps to keep professional football in the city. Within a year, the Raiders would be gone.