Rudy Martinez has come into the race for a powerful L.A. City Council seat like a breath of fresh air. Not only is he an outsider in a decidedly insider game, but he's a reality TV star (Flip This House) who's got his own money to put into the campaign.
But now he also has a badge problem. An LAPD badge problem. Turns out he had one in his possession several years back. And he wasn't supposed to have one.
Big deal? Not sure. That's really up to you, the voter. Here's the story, as we know it:
We were tipped off by an anonymous source who says he's an LAPD officer. The source said that Martinez once had possession of a badge during his days as a department volunteer.
We checked. Turns out that Martinez signed up in 2000 to become an LAPD reserve specialist, which is a fancy way of saying LAPD volunteer. No gun. No badge. No police powers. Just a structured way of offering your expertise to the department.
That much was confirmed by LAPD Lt. Craig Herron.
Martinez told the Weekly in an interview that sometime in mid-2004 he was given a badge (he wouldn't say by whom) in order to use it to make fund-raising replica/toy badges for a celebrity golf tournament that would benefit the department.
"They had given me a marketing package to get miniature cups and replicas
made for the tournament," Martinez said, " -- to see if I could get free stuff donated from these places because I had a lot of resources out there."
"I had this badge along with a lot of other things," he said.
LAPD Sgt. Mitzi Grasso says this story isn't very plausible. For one, she says, the department doesn't give out real badges in order to make fake ones, even for fund-raising, even for Hollywood.
"We have a whole Trademark and Patent Section," she said. "There's a real stringent review and approval process before anyone would be allowed to do that."
When asked if such a situation -- the department letting a real badge out of its sights in order make tchochkes -- were even possible, Grasso repeatedly said, "No."
Asked what would happen to someone in the department who gave a badge to a non-sworn civilian, Grasso said it would be looked at on a case-by-case basis but that such a move could result in disciplinary action.
"If that happens it's investigated on divisional level or by Internal Affairs," she said. "It would go through the process, be reviewed, and be adjudicated."
Did that happen in this case? No one at the LAPD could say. It would have been a personnel matter, and thus a closed file, if this badge incident even came to the attention of superiors.
Meanwhile, Martinez says after he did his thing (got the fund-raising items made) he forgot about the real badge -- having stuffed it in his car's glove box, where it collected dust. Months later, he got a call from the Pasadena Police Department. They had his badge and reserve specialist ID. They turned them into the LAPD.
(Pasadena police couldn't find a record of this incident. Doesn't mean it didn't happen. Just means that if it did, they couldn't find a record of it).
In 2005 Martinez resigned from the reserves -- not because of the badge, he says, but because he didn't have the time required for the gig.
His story about how the badge ended up with the Pasadena P.D. is a strange one. He says the only way that could have happened was that a stranger was in his car who must have taken the badge and ID.
He says that months before his badge was found by Pasadena police in 2005 he had stopped by the side of a local freeway to help a woman who had been hurt in a crash. When the California Highway Patrol arrived, he says, they realized his own car was parked in a bad spot and had another bystander move it for him. That must have been who took the badge and ID, he said.
"My car was in the middle of the freeway," Martinez said. "The CHP had a gentleman move my car. That stuff was in my glove box. I didn't think much about it. I didn't even know it was gone."
Asked if he misused, displayed or presented the badge to make himself appear to be an officer, Martinez said, "Of course not."
He hasn't, however, listed his experience as an LAPD reserves volunteer in campaign material. His relationship with the LAPD, he said, includes a longtime friendship with former Deputy Chief David Kalish, who he says he met when he was an LAPD Explorer -- a program for school kids.
Kalish was relieved of duty in 2003 following allegations that he molested an Explorer in the 1970s. However, we were told by a source with knowledge of his story, that Kalish, one of the department's few openly gay command staffers, was exonerated in court when the witness' time line turned out to make no sense.
We were told by the anonymous LAPD cop who tipped us off to the badge story that Kalish also had oversight of the reserves program during part of Martinez's tenure there.
"He was my mentor," Martinez said. "I met him when I was an Explorer Scout, and he was a father figure to me for 20 or 30 years."
Kalish contributed $500 to Martinez's campaign and, according to a document, works with him at Piedmont Financial, the candidate's Eagle Rock house-flipping firm.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Parke Skelton, campaign consultant for incumbent city Councilman Jose Huizar, had this to say:
"Rudy Martinez needs to come clean. Where did he get the badge and what was he doing with it? Whose badge was it? These are important issues of personal integrity and public policy. Martinez didn't tell voters about his work for the tobacco lobby or about his ... criminal convictions. And now this. A disturbing pattern of dishonesty is emerging."
Martinez said he smelled dirty political tricks when the Weekly confronted him with the badge-possession story.
"You throw your hat in the ring and it gets interesting," he said. "I'm getting sick and tired of the games these politicians play. We need to make some serious changes here."