Responding to defense allegations of "outrageous prosecutorial misconduct," the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has removed the prosecutor who had been spearheading the L.A. Memorial Coliseum corruption case.
In a court filing Friday, the office said it had replaced Deputy Dist. Atty. Dana Aratani and an investigator "in an abundance of caution" after defense attorneys argued that the prosecutor violated the rights of a defendant by viewing emails he exchanged with his attorney.
Aratani inadvertently read the emails after taking over the case from another prosecutor, the district attorney's office said. The office argued that the emails were sent before the criminal probe began.
Prosecutors filed the motion after attorneys for the stadium's former event manager and two concert promoters facing trial in the case argued that the corruption charges should be dismissed or the district attorney's office removed.
Gary Jay Kaufman, who represents promoter Pasquale Rotella, accused Aratani of deliberately and repeatedly reading emails Rotella had sent his attorneys, including Kaufman.
"The entire case is tainted," Kaufman said in legal paperwork filed last month. He said the prosecutor "opened, read and analyzed" confidential emails that Rotella sent his attorney the day after The Times published a story online about the district attorney's investigation. The Coliseum scandal grew out of a series of Times reports that began in 2011.
Kaufman's motion blamed the district attorney's Public Integrity Division, arguing that a lack of written protocols for handling attorney-client emails "fostered an environment where the prosecutors and investigators not only reviewed attorney-client-privileged emails willy-nilly but also failed to keep any records of the privileged emails that they read."
Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy is expected to rule at a June 8 hearing on whether to dismiss the charges or recuse the district attorney's office.
The three defendants are accused in an alleged bribery and conspiracy scheme. Todd DeStefano, the stadium's former event manager, is charged with taking at least $1.9 million from the two concert promoters — Rotella of Insomniac Inc. and Reza Gerami of Go Ventures Inc. — in exchange for helping them stage raves and keeping their costs down.
In court documents, prosecutors alleged that DeStefano became a "tireless advocate" for keeping raves at the stadium complex even after a 15-year-old girl died after overdosing on Ecstasy at Insomniac's June 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival rave. DeStefano, who at the time was overseeing promoters as part of his government duties, resigned shortly after The Times began inquiring about his relationship with Insomniac.
In Friday's filing, the district attorney's office said Aratani faced the "daunting task" of sifting through as many as 500,000 emails seized during the corruption investigation as he prepared for trial. To make the task easier, he developed his own system of "randomly viewing files" for evidence of criminal activity, the motion said, but "unfortunately" didn't limit his initial perusal to the address line of the emails.
"While the prosecutor's methodology may have been flawed in retrospect," the motion said, "it was not in bad faith and was never a deliberate attempt to intrude upon attorney-client confidences."
The motion was filed by Deputy Dist. Atty. Terrie Tengelsen, who, with Aratani, is assigned to the office's Public Integrity Division.
Tengelsen argued that no other prosecutors in her division or the office of 978 attorneys had read the emails or discussed their contents with Aratani and that the office should not be thrown off the case or the charges dismissed.
The new team, she wrote, is capable of prosecuting the case within 45 days of the next hearing.
Gerami's attorney, Larry Bakman, said he plans to ask the court to dismiss the case against his client, saying the charges against all three are intertwined. The rights of defendants to have private communications with their attorneys form the backbone of the criminal justice system, he said.
"The D.A.'s office doesn't have the right to invade those confidential communications," he said.
Short of a dismissal, Bakman said, he will urge the judge to remove the entire district attorney's office and its investigators. Such a move would require the attorney general's office to take over the prosecution, starting from scratch, the lawyer said.
"The A.G. would have to reinvestigate with new investigators," Bakman said, adding that a new prosecution team could drop the matter or offer the defendants a favorable plea deal.
Others charged in the criminal case include former Coliseum technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr. and a former stadium contractor, Tony Estrada.
Caudillo, who faces a separate trial, is accused of illegally directing Coliseum funds to a company he co-founded. He has pleaded not guilty.
Estrada, who is a fugitive, has been charged with paying $385,000 in kickbacks to former Coliseum General Manager Patrick Lynch, with most of the money funneled through a Miami bank. Lynch has pleaded guilty to criminal conflict of interest and returned the money to the commission.