Sheriff Lee Baca and the Gun-Gift Connection
"Caveman Chuck" Coker
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is known in gun-rights circles for being stingy with concealed-weapons permits. Sheriff Lee Baca has total discretion over who is allowed to get a permit, and he hasn't given out many.
As of May 2012, only 341 people had been granted them, according to sheriff's records. Compare that with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, which had 1,754 permit holders in 2011, despite a population of just 2 million people to L.A.'s 10 million. The Kern County Sheriff granted even more, with 3,564 permit holders in a population of 800,000 people.
In L.A. County, records show, most of the permits go to judges and reserve deputies. But there is another group that seems to have better luck than most in obtaining permits: friends of Lee Baca. Those who've given the sheriff gifts or donated to his campaign are disproportionately represented on the roster of permit holders.
Chuck Michel, a gun-rights attorney who has pushed for greater access to concealed-weapons permits, says practices in many "anti-gun" jurisdictions are "corrupted by favoritism and cronyism."
Michel had not looked in depth at L.A. County's practices, but the Weekly did. Last year, the Weekly filed a public records request for all 341 active concealed-weapons permits granted by the Sheriff's Department — as well as a list of the 123 people who applied for concealed weapons over an 18-month period but were denied. (You can see the complete list of permit holders we obtained from the Sheriff's Department here.)
Those lists contain many of the same names that appear on Baca's gift reports and contribution records.
In fact, more than two dozen people who have given gifts or campaign contributions to the sheriff also have gun permits. More than one out of every 10 permits issued to civilians went to people on Baca's gift list. The permit holders include Michael R. Yamaki, an attorney and reserve deputy who is among Baca's best friends, as well as several people who attended Baca's 1999 wedding.
Of those who were denied, only one made a contribution. That person, attorney Ari Friedman, tells the Weekly that although he made a $1,000 contribution in 2009, he is not friends with Baca.
"I don't have Lee Baca on my speed dial," he says. "The more he gives to his friends without good cause, the harder it is for people like me. A couple months ago, I had a death threat. It would be nice to have the security of having a weapon handy. But I can't because people abuse it."
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore denies that favoritism played a role in the distribution of permits.
"There's no link whatsoever," Whitmore says. "He's very stingy when he gives those out. [Giving gifts] has nothing to do with it."
George Chilingar, an octogenarian who used to teach at USC, is among the lucky few in L.A. County who has a concealed-weapons permit. He tells the Weekly that he was once close with the Shah of Iran, and that he needs a permit because of threats on his life from Iranian revolutionaries.
"A lot of people who were against the shah did not like me very much," Chilingar says.
Chilingar gave Persian rugs valued at $750 as a wedding gift to Baca. "That's my calling card," he says.
A volunteer translator for the Sheriff's Department, Chilingar speaks highly of Baca. "I consider him a genius," he says.
Amine Klaeb, who owns a gas station, also gave Baca a rug as a wedding gift. He tells the Weekly he supported Baca's first campaign for office in 1998. He says his permit has lapsed, though he remains on the sheriff's list of active permit holders.
"If you're threatened, maybe you're allowed to have one," Klaeb says.
Also on the concealed weapons list is Arnold Kopelson, a Hollywood producer who gave Baca ballet tickets in 2004, and singer James Darren, who once gave Baca some CDs and a photograph.
Six of the 26 people on the list are reserve deputies. Although it is easier to get a concealed-weapons permit as a reservist, it is not automatic. Of the more than 800 reserve deputies in the department, only about one in six has a permit.
And the lower the level of deputy, the harder it should be to get a permit. Level III reserves, who have the lowest rank, do things like traffic control and parade safety. They are not allowed to make arrests.
All six reserve deputies who both gave to Baca and have permits are Level III reserves. Most also were caught up in a 2010 audit of the reserve program, which found that 99 reserve deputies had been allowed to graduate from their training class despite inadequate course work and shoddy testing.
Among them are jeweler Nagapet Boyadgian, who gave Baca a $500 contribution in 2010, and Arthur Kassel, a socialite and law enforcement enthusiast who previously hosted a birthday party for Baca. Both were allowed to graduate from Level III training classes despite poor coursework, according to the audit. Both hold concealed-weapons permits.
So, too, do Emerson Glazer and Stan Shuster. Glazer is a real estate executive and the son of Guilford Glazer, who made a fortune developing the Del Amo Fashion Center mall in Torrance. Shuster owns the Grand Havana Room, a Beverly Hills cigar club.
Both Glazer and Shuster are in the reserves, but the Sheriff's Department declined to release information about their rank or their concealed-weapons permits, stating that they hold "confidential positions."
Shuster was cited by the L.A. Times as one of those involved in the reserve audit. It appears that Glazer was involved as well. The Sheriff's Department provided the Weekly with a list of the reserves whose training was invalidated. The list has a few blackouts, for reasons that were not made clear, including in those places where Shuster's and Glazer's names would fall in alphabetical order. (Neither Shuster nor Glazer returned calls seeking comment.)
Emerson Glazer routinely gives Baca basketball tickets and gift baskets, while Shuster gave Baca shirts and golf balls in 2007. (Shuster also appears to have paid for a round of golf for Baca in 2008, though his name was spelled as "Schuster" on the gift form.) Both men also attended an Eagle & Badge Foundation gala in 2008, where they were pictured smiling with fellow concealed-weapon permittee Arthur Kassel, who was president of the foundation.
Gun-rights advocates have periodically gone to court to argue that law enforcement has no clear standards when it comes to distributing concealed-weapons permits. Lately, they also have begun to argue that citizens have a Second Amendment right to such permits.
Brandon Combs, executive director of the Calguns Foundation, says he has been frustrated by Baca's refusal to turn over public records that would show why certain applications are approved and others are denied.
One of his clients, he says, took out a restraining order against a sheriff's deputy who threatened him, but has been denied a permit.
"Often the sheriff says there has to be a legitimate, proven threat against the person," Combs says. "This person has an active restraining order against an L.A. sheriff's deputy for a threat against his life. He can't get a license, and we can't get access to records to find out why he doesn't qualify."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.
- At the Epicenter of L.A. Gang Wars, Rival Properties Are Busted
- Los Angeles Neighborhoods Offer Some Upward Mobility
- Yes, Most of the Nation's Worst Freeways Are in L.A.