The publication of emails between L.A. Coliseum Commission members, staffers and attorneys appears to show a public body making shady moves, including possible decision-making outside the public sphere, a legal no-no, vote counting, also illicit, and even sticking up for an indicted events manager who worked for ousted rave promoters.
The release came over the weekend after the Los Angeles Times won a legal battle against the Commission, which had tried to block the emails' publication. Gary Jay Kaufman, attorney for rave organizer Pasquale Rotella, argues that the documents could comprise another nail in the coffin that is the D.A.'s case against the promoters:
Rotella's Insomniac Events sent the attorney's statement to the Weekly. It says:
We've been saying from day one that Mr. Rotella did nothing wrong and that the charges pending against him are completely politically motivated and publicity driven. These emails go a long way in confirming that our suspicions have been accurate. We note that these emails were also sent to the district attorney's office. We are hopeful that the focus will now shift towards what appears to be a significant breach of the public trust by the Coliseum Commissioners and their staff.
On Wednesday Rotella heads to court, where a judge will weigh his motion to dismiss charges that include allegations of conspiracy, embezzlement and bribery. Promoter Reza Gerami of Go Ventures and Coliseum events manager Todd DeStefano were also indicted as part of the same conspiracy case.
Prosecutors say the promoters paid more than $1.8 million to DeStefano under-the-table in order to ensure that their events carry on smoothly at the Coliseum and its sister venue, the Sports Arena.
The D.A.'s office says documents prove the party organizers knew a quid-pro-quo was in effect when they paid DeStefano.
But the promoters have argued that the payments were made for DeStefano's after-hours work helping them organize the events on portions of the Coliseum and Sports Arena not controlled by the Coliseum Commission, namely parking lots.
A civil suit that brought similar allegations against the promoters was dismissed last month.
Rotella and Gerami hosted events at the venues starting in 1998. The festivals saw more than a million fans come through the turnstiles and were worth millions in revenues.
The 94 pages of emails, sent anonymously to the Times, mainly cover the commission's attempts to hammer out a deal to give USC control of the venues after the rave controversy emerged in 2010 and 2011.
Public records requests made by the Weekly appear in the documents. We inquired about rave promoters paying for Exposition Park fireworks shows presented, in part, by L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks, who supported the idea of the raves staying at the public venues after controversy over the overdose death of a 15-year-old raver erupted in 2010.
The emails go on to show that some public officials were trying to make the USC deal with as little public input as possible. Coliseum leaders appeared to feel that, after the rave promoters allegedly tried to “defraud” the public, with major concert promoters saying no to the Sports Arena as a viable venue, and with a “structural deficit” affecting the venues, they had no choice but to make a deal to let USC take control.
In one email then commission president David Israel says he doesn't want state officials, part of a triad of bureaucrats who run the venues (the state, the county and the city), to participate in a meeting over the USC handover:
I am determinedly opposed to a three-way meeting, including the state in the Coliseum negotiations with USC. Once they are in the room, they will feel free to offer thoughts and suggestions on all aspects of the matter …
Assistant county counsel Thomas Faughnan wrote that USC demanded confidential negotiations and that public deliberation (though required by law) would violate that agreement.
Israel is caught in another email counting up votes for possible passage of the USC deal.
In one 2011 email the interim general manager of the Coliseum, John Sandbrook, says corruption defendant Todd DeStefano is “going to be in an odd position” if the USC takeover includes the Coliseum and Sports Arena parking lots, where DeStefano planned to hold raves even after he exited the venues in apparent disgrace.
If the state screws the pooch on the parking lots, there's nothing we can do about it. I'm voting to move ahead with the Coliseum deal.
At one point an outside attorney for the Coliseum says that litigation against the rave promoters, DeStefano and others will cost the public $140,000 to $175,000 a month over the course of several months. (Remember, the suit, which was lost, was mainly over an alleged $1.8 million-plus in payments that Coliseum officials say could have or should have gone to the venues).
A November, 2011 email by Sandbrook indicates that some staffers destroyed documents before District Attorney's investigators could get to indicted ex-general manager Patrick Lynch's office.
Sandbrook deemed it an “honest attempt” at office cleaning.