Days after his arrest on multiple corruption charges, the former general manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum pleaded guilty to a single criminal count of conflict of interest, avoiding a trial and possible lengthy prison sentence.
Patrick T. Lynch will do no prison time as part of Wednesday's plea deal and must repay $385,000 that he allegedly received from a Coliseum contractor as part of a kickback scheme. He also will be placed on three years' probation.
Lynch, who faced up to 15 1/2 years behind bars, is one of six men who were charged last week in a sweeping, 29-count indictment alleging bribery, embezzlement, conspiracy and conflict of interest at the historic, taxpayer-owned stadium.
Looking haggard and dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit, the 55-year-old Lynch, who once rubbed shoulders with local power brokers and hobnobbed with NFL owners, spoke in clipped sentences as his plea was entered before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli.
In exchange for his plea, which some observers said could be viewed as highly favorable to Lynch, the L.A. County district attorney's office dropped nine other charges against him that included embezzlement and conspiracy.
The case grew out of Times reports on financial irregularities at the Coliseum and companion Sports Arena, which Lynch managed for 17 years until he resigned under pressure 13 months ago. The venues are run by the city, county and state.
The deal forbids Lynch to make false statements about the case, but it does not compel him to testify against the other defendants. They include former Coliseum events manager Todd DeStefano and rave promoters Pasquale Rotella and Reza Gerami.
DeStefano is charged with receiving nearly $2 million in illegal payments from Rotella and Gerami for helping them stage rave concerts at the Coliseum properties and keeping their costs low. The promoters are accused of bribery, among other counts.
Also under indictment are former Coliseum technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr. and the contractor accused of making payments to Lynch, Tony Estrada.
DeStefano, Rotella and Gerami have pleaded not guilty. Caudillo is expected to surrender. Estrada was believed to be in Panama, and prosecutors have said they do not know whether he will return voluntarily.
Estrada is accused of paying Lynch in regular installments for more than four years, with most of the money deposited in a Miami bank account. The payments were allegedly financed by an increase in Estrada's contracting fees that Lynch arranged.
Outside the downtown courtroom, Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman, the prosecutor, said the plea agreement with Lynch was the best outcome for the public and the Coliseum, which is on the brink of insolvency.
Payment of the $385,000 to public coffers "is an absolutely critical part of this disposition," Huntsman said. "And it's something I've never seen a defendant do in my about 10 years of prosecuting these kinds of cases — to come up with that kind of money, pay it back upfront, without a fight, immediately."
Lynch, whose total compensation at the Coliseum was about $277,000 in his final year, has 45 days to pay. He must also perform 1,500 hours of community service. Any violation of the plea agreement would result in a three-year prison term.
Huntsman said Lynch's alleged criminal conduct was not as serious as the counts against DeStefano and the promoters because the charges against the other three involved much more money and a larger number of illegal acts.
The prosecutor also said part of Lynch's punishment is that "his career has been destroyed. I don't know that he's penniless, but he's nowhere near in the financial shape he was before."
He added that Lynch agreed to pay some of the restitution out of his personal retirement funds, which otherwise would have been off limits to prosecutors. "We got money out of him that we never would have got out of him," Huntsman said.
Lynch's attorney, Tony Capozzola, said the deal was fair because his client was not guilty of the charges that were dropped.
"He's extremely relieved," Capozzola said. "He is out from under this trauma that has been going on for nearly a year and a half. He is sorry that he ever got involved with Mr. Estrada."
Loyola Law School professor Stanley Goldman said it may appear that Lynch got off easy.
"It's very rare that somebody is charged with 10 counts" and prosecutors reduce them to one, unless they are "expecting cooperation in exchange, the charges are more difficult to prove than anticipated or they simply overcharged it," Goldman said.
"Why charge a guy with 10 counts if you are going to be satisfied with a no-jail-time plea deal to one?" he said.
Attorneys for DeStefano, Rotella and Gerami said they planned to call Lynch to testify on behalf of their clients.
"I fully expect that his truthful testimony will help exonerate Mr. Rotella," said Gary Jay Kaufman, whose client is chief executive of the rave company Insomniac Inc. That comment was largely echoed by Stefan Eric Sacks, the lawyer for Gerami, head of another concert company, Go Ventures Inc.
DeStefano has said that Lynch, who was his boss at the Coliseum, gave him permission to work on the side with the promoters while in his government job. Richard G. Hirsch, DeStefano's attorney, said after Lynch's plea, "We are pleased that Mr. Lynch will now be available to testify on Mr. DeStefano's behalf should this case proceed to trial."
The Times began investigating the Coliseum after the drug-overdose death of a teenage girl who attended a rave there in 2010. The scandal took root in years of inattentive stewardship by the nine members of its governing commission, many of whom had a cozy relationship with the affable Lynch. Few financial controls were imposed on Lynch, DeStefano and other employees, who spent Coliseum money on luxury cars, golf outings, massages and other perks.
Managers also had unlimited use of a government gasoline card, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in charges even though their jobs required little driving.
In a separate investigation, federal authorities are examining cash payments of more than $1 million — much of it delivered in suitcases — to a Coliseum union representative, according to those familiar with the probe. The money was intended to cover stagehands' wages.