Coliseum official's own companies made $1.7 million in deals
Todd DeStefano's income began growing about the time the Coliseum and Sports Arena slipped into the red, records show.
Todd DeStefano, a top administrator for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, helped plan and oversee security and emergency services for a huge rave, the 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival, at the same time he was a paid consultant to the company producing the event, which was marred by numerous drug overdoses and the death of a teenage girl. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times / February 2, 2011)
Then, said people familiar with the arrangement, the beverage giant got a curious call from a Coliseum representative with new instructions: Void that check. Coke was told to write a new one to a private firm -- a business owned by the Coliseum's events manager, Todd DeStefano.
Coca-Cola complied, cutting a fresh check to DeStefano's company after receiving an invoice from him on the commission's letterhead, said the sources, who are not authorized to speak publicly.
The redirected money was part of at least $1.7 million that companies owned by DeStefano received in about two years of making his own deals with firms that had business before the Coliseum Commission, according to interviews and agency records. The sum far exceeds the tens of thousands of dollars previously disclosed in a widening scandal surrounding DeStefano.
Other firms that paid him while he oversaw them in his government job included moviemakers, liquor vendors and the producer of the Electric Daisy Carnival rave. That event was marred by scores of drug arrests and ambulance calls, and led to the death of a teenage girl.
After The Times reported DeStefano's financial relationships, state and county authorities launched conflict-of-interest investigations into his affairs. DeStefano quit his Coliseum job in January.
In addition to his extra income, he billed the commission last year for $1,584 in massages, was paid a $600 monthly car allowance and received $21,000 in free tickets to concerts, football games and other events at the taxpayer-owned Coliseum and Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Those perks are detailed in copies of his expense reports and other documents obtained under the California Public Records Act.
An attorney for DeStefano, James Blatt, said his client has done nothing wrong. Blatt said Coca-Cola sent its original check to the Coliseum Commission by mistake, and DeStefano's company was entitled to the $70,000 for negotiating the contract that allowed the bottler to sell beverages at the Sports Arena and Coliseum, the former Olympics site that is home to USC football.
The lawyer said DeStefano's boss at the time, former commission General Manager Patrick Lynch, approved the Coca-Cola payment to the private company. Lynch's attorney, Tony Capozzola, denied that but acknowledged that his client ordered the first check returned to Coke.
Lynch did not know the money would go to DeStefano's separate firm and never told Coca-Cola to write a new check, Capozzola said. Others with knowledge of the matter said they did not know the name of the commission employee who gave those instructions.
The Coliseum Commission's finance director said Lynch told him last year that DeStefano's firm had a contract with Coca-Cola that would earn the commission about $20,000.
"I asked him several times after that, 'Where's our money? Where's our money?'" said the financial officer, Ronald Lederkramer. "He would say, 'I'll talk to Todd.' But we never got any money."
DeStefano, in fact, had no authority to sign the contract and the Coliseum's concessions arm never received proceeds from it, the commission's interim general manager, John Sandbrook, told The Times earlier this month.
Coca-Cola spokesman Bob Phillips said his company was "disappointed to discover that Mr. DeStefano may not have been authorized to act on behalf of the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in his recent dealings with Coca-Cola. We are making every effort to work with the L.A Memorial Coliseum Commission and other public entities to rectify this situation."
The $70,000 from Coke is a fraction of what two companies owned by DeStefano, LAC Events and Private Event Management, pulled in while he was on the commission's payroll.
The firms were paid about $800,000 last year by the rave company Insomniac Inc., to help it stage rave concerts, said people familiar with the outlays -- productions that fell under DeStefano's normal responsibilities in his government job.
A second rave promoter, Go Ventures, has paid his firms about $876,000 since 2008 for work on Sports Arena shows, said the company's chief executive, Reza Gerami.
DeStefano's businesses also received tens of thousands of dollars from enterprises that shot film, rented space or had vendor contracts at commission properties. That income is shown in four years of state-mandated financial disclosures that DeStefano filed recently, after The Times reported that he had failed to submit them.
Blatt acknowledged that DeStefano's take through his two firms -- on top of a government paycheck of as much as $189,000 a year -- "appears to be a significant number." But he said it was justified by the years DeStefano devoted to drawing business to the site.