Coliseum

The Lakers celebrate their victory at the Coliseum in Los Angeles in 2009. For at least five years, officials with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum passed bundles of cash totaling more than $1 million to a union representative, sometimes in a suitcase packed with $100 bills. The payments were to cover the wages of stagehands on Coliseum events -- rave concerts, Cinco de Mayo performances and the Lakers championship celebration. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 17, 2009)

For at least five years, officials with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum passed bundles of cash totaling more than $1 million to a union representative, sometimes in a suitcase packed with $100 bills.

The payments, ranging from $1,400 to $187,700 each, were to cover the wages of stagehands on Coliseum events -- rave concerts, Cinco de Mayo performances and a Lakers championship celebration -- according to records and interviews.

Invoice reports from the publicly owned Coliseum, obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act, show that the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees received the cash advances from March 2006 through last February. But the Coliseum imposed no controls over whether the money ended up in the right pockets, and the commissioners who govern the property say they may have been swindled.

DOCUMENT: Coliseum invoices

Now criminal investigators for the U.S. Labor Department are looking into the payments, people familiar with the matter say.

With no detailed accounting of what happened to the cash after it left the stadium, the Coliseum Commission does not know how much actually went to wages and whether required contributions were made to employee benefit plans. In addition, the stadium could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back payroll and withholding taxes.

It's as though the Coliseum was run "like an underground business," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies government corruption. "This idea of cash in suitcases reads like a bad crime novel."

The storied stadium has been embroiled in controversy for about year, since The Times began reporting financial irregularities involving its top executives, most of whom have departed.

Two of the managers founded side companies that received money from firms doing business with the Coliseum, records and interviews show. And according to invoices and expense reports, the Coliseum spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury cars, unlimited gasoline purchases, massages, snoring treatments, golf outings and steakhouse meals, all billed to the public.

A district attorney's investigation is underway. The former managers have denied any wrongdoing.

The Labor Department probe adds a federal dimension to the Coliseum's troubles. Most of the cash payments to Local 33 of the union were for the raves at the Coliseum and companion Sports Arena and for bookings by Latino music and dance productions.

The $187,700 advance -- the largest in the reports -- was for a mixed martial arts event in June 2007. The other big payments were mostly for raves sponsored by a company called Go Ventures Inc., including $82,000 for a 2010 New Year's Eve concert the firm co-produced and $71,200 for its Halloween show the year before, according to the reports.

An advance of $53,058 was paid for a July 2007 Daft Punk concert. And the union received $7,131 in cash for the Lakers' June 2009 victory parade, which was capped by a rally at the Coliseum. Thousands of dollars in payments were also made for a Filipino game show and a Filipino religious program.

The advances are clearly itemized on the reports, nearly all of which show that they were approved by the Coliseum's then-finance director, Ronald Lederkramer.

A Coliseum attorney said in an email that the finance director's boss, former General Manager Patrick Lynch, did not present the reports to the nine-member commission for review.

"[T]herefore, the commissioners would not have had the opportunity to review those statements and call the cash advance entries into question," said the attorney, Assistant County Counsel Thomas Faughnan.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, one of four commissioners who are elected officials, said in a statement that until controversy engulfed the Coliseum last February, "I was never made privy to, nor informed of, financial statements of any kind that documented any cash payments to anyone."

Two other county supervisors who are commissioners -- Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe -- did not respond to queries about the invoices.

City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who also sits on the commission, confirmed that the Labor Department is examining the advances.