A fugitive in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum corruption case said he was in "the jungles of Brazil" and will not return to face trial in an alleged kickback scheme because he shouldn't have been charged.
"Let 'em come over here and get me," Tony Estrada, a former Coliseum janitorial contractor who portrays himself as a whistle-blower done wrong, told The Times in a telephone interview.
Estrada, who has been charged with embezzlement and conspiracy, said Monday he came forward more than a year ago with canceled checks and other evidence that showed he was making secret payments to the stadium's then-general manager, Patrick Lynch.
He said he gave the records to a Coliseum lawyer, who eventually turned them over to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He said prosecutors refused to meet with him during their investigation of the payments.
Last month, Estrada and Lynch were among six men charged in a 29-count indictment in the Coliseum case, which grew out of a series of Times reports. Lynch has pleaded guilty to a single count of conflict of interest to avoid a trial and a possible lengthy prison term.
"I gave them all the proof … and they are nailing me?" said Estrada, 72. "How is that possible?"
The prosecutor in the case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman, said he doesn't view Estrada as a whistle-blower. "There is some truth to what he is saying, that he did trigger the investigation that pointed at him," Huntsman said.
"But I don't think you can call someone a whistle-blower when he comes in and tells about his own crimes."
Estrada revealed the payments only because he had a falling-out with Lynch, Huntsman said. "If I thought he had come forward solely to see justice done, I might have a different opinion about him," the prosecutor added.
Huntsman also said Estrada stopped cooperating. He declined to discuss whether his office would pursue Estrada internationally.
Estrada said he paid Lynch — mostly through a Miami bank account — because Lynch demanded money as a condition of Estrada keeping his Coliseum contract. "Pat was squeezing me," he said.
Asked why he did not alert authorities earlier, Estrada said Lynch had assured him that the payments were legal because the two had planned to go into business together. Lynch's attorney, Tony Capozzola, said Estrada has changed his account of the payments repeatedly. Capozzola said the money went toward a boat deal involving the two men and was not a kickback.
"Pat Lynch pled to conflict of interest and that's all," he said.
Also charged in the Coliseum case are the publicly owned stadium's former events manager, Todd DeStefano, and prominent rave promoters Pasquale Rotella and Reza Gerami. Prosecutors allege that Rotella and Gerami paid DeStefano at least $1.9 million in bribes to help them stage raves at the Coliseum and adjacent Sports Arena while keeping the promoters' costs low. At the time, DeStefano oversaw raves as part of his government job.
The sixth defendant is former Coliseum technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr., who is charged with directing more than $20,000 in stadium work to a company he controlled. All have pleaded not guilty.
Under his plea deal, Lynch will do no prison time but must repay the $385,000 that Estrada provided to him over four and a half years.
The payments to Lynch began after the Coliseum executive arranged for the contractor's fees to be increased. On Wednesday, Estrada said the $385,000 included about $30,000 of his personal funds used for boat expenses.
The Cuban-born Estrada said he worked at the Coliseum from 1999 until his retirement last year. He said he left the United States about seven months ago, sold his homes in the Los Angeles area and Miami and emptied his bank accounts. Prosecutors have secured a court order freezing any assets he has in the United States.
They have said they believed he was in Panama, but Estrada said he only passed through that country. "I'm floating around," he said. He said he would not return, even if offered the same no-jail deal as Lynch.
"I have no intention of going back to the United States," Estrada said. "I have nothing there."
Estrada said he plans to file a $250-million whistle-blower lawsuit against the Coliseum Commission, the district attorney's office and others.
"I was enjoying my retirement, but my integrity demands that I do something," he said. "I am the one who provided the information about the corruption and I have been betrayed. Instead of being a hero, I am a 'criminal.'"
Huntsman said it is hard to take the lawsuit threat seriously.
"It will be interesting to see if he can sue while avoiding being arrested," he said.