After 'very embarrassing' blunders, prosecutors offer no-jail deals in L.A. Coliseum corruption case

Two concert promoters accused in a bribery-and-embezzlement scheme involving raves at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will avoid serving any jail time under a plea bargain with prosecutors who acknowledged, for the second time, that they mishandled evidence in the high-profile corruption case.

Pasquale Rotella, who was indicted in 2012 on six felony counts, pleaded no contest Thursday afternoon to a single misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge. He will pay $150,000 to Los Angeles County and serve three years of probation.

Reza Gerami, who originally faced nine felony counts, will accept a similar deal Friday and pay restitution of $30,000, lawyer Larry M. Bakman said. 

Settlement talks were underway for Todd DeStefano, the former events manager of the Coliseum. All three defendants were scheduled to stand trial this month. 

The developments follow a series of embarrassing blunders by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office that defense lawyers said amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy last week rebuked prosecutors for repeatedly bungling the handling of evidence and said the district attorney's office might be incapable of managing complex "paperwork" cases.

"You guys are just tripping over your feet and falling on your faces," Kennedy told prosecutors Sean Hassett and Terrie Tengelsen, who work for the office's public integrity division.

As part of her criticism, Kennedy recommended that county prosecutors seek advice on how to manage such cases from their federal counterparts in the U.S. attorney’s office.

A year ago, the district attorney’s office had to remove another prosecutor who was spearheading the Coliseum team, Dana Aratani, for mishandling evidence. The office was forced to restart its trial preparations from scratch.

Aratani was found to have improperly reviewed emails between one of the defendants and his lawyer, a violation of attorney-client privilege rules. To make sure the evidence wasn’t compromised again, Tengelsen said she had created a “firewall” with Aratani. 

However, Tengelsen said last week that she did have contact with Aratani about the case, prompting Kennedy to declare, "Oh my God!"

Hassett later apologized to the judge, saying, "I'm terribly sorry.... We never intended that any of this happen. Obviously, it's very embarrassing."

A spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said Thursday that her office had no comment on the matter.

The Coliseum case grew out of a 2011 Los Angeles Times investigation, which found that DeStefano, a government employee, received large payments from Rotella and Gerami while overseeing their raves at the historic stadium and the companion L.A. Sports Arena.

Interested in the stories shaping California? Sign up for the free Essential California newsletter »

The Times began examining the relationship between DeStefano and the promoters after the drug-related death of a 15-year-old girl who attended an Electric Daisy Carnival rave at the Coliseum. That concert was staged by Rotella's firm, Insomniac Events.

Gerami's company, Go Ventures, also held raves at the Coliseum property. 

Rotella and Gerami were eventually indicted on charges of bribing a public employee, and DeStefano was charged with accepting bribes and conflict of interest. All three were accused of embezzlement and conspiracy. 

Rotella, one of the nation’s most prominent rave promoters, made his plea during a brief hearing Thursday. Later, in a statement issued by Insomniac, he labeled the charges against him “politically motivated and publicity driven,” without elaborating.

Gary Jay Kaufman, Rotella’s attorney, said prosecutors would not have been able to prove their case if it went to trial. Kaufman and the other defense attorneys initially petitioned the court last year to dismiss the case on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

“This saga is over,” he said Thursday.

Bakman, Gerami’s attorney, said he was “stunned” by the prosecution’s missteps. “It’s a disgrace,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment to all prosecution agencies. This is the so-called public integrity unit?”

DeStefano, considered the key defendant, could face 10 years in prison if convicted on the counts pending against him. On Thursday, his attorney declined to comment on the plea negotiations.

Four years ago, when the charges were filed, prosecutors called DeStefano an “inside man” for the concert promoters at the taxpayer-owned Coliseum, helping them to overcome concerns about the raves being held there because of rampant drug use, overdose deaths and other safety problems.

Prosecutors alleged that the promoters paid DeStefano more than $1.8 million. In exchange, they said, DeStefano used his official position to provide the promoters access to the Coliseum and low rental rates. 

Three others were indicted in the case, including former Coliseum General Manager Patrick Lynch, who was accused of taking kickbacks from a stadium janitorial contractor.

Lynch pleaded guilty in 2012 to felony conflict of interest in a deal that kept him out of jail. He also repaid the Coliseum Commission $385,000 he received from the contractor, Tony Estrada, who is a fugitive in the case on embezzlement and conspiracy charges. 

At the time of Lynch’s plea, some legal experts said they were puzzled that the district attorney’s office did not insist on jail time. Lynch was indicted on 10 felony counts in connection with the alleged kickback arrangement, in which Estrada paid him in regular installments for more than four years. Much of the money was deposited in a Miami bank account.

A sixth defendant, former Coliseum technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr., is accused of directing stadium business to a company in which he had a financial stake and charged with conflict of interest. His next court date is set for November.

Some of the charges against DeStefano, Rotella and Gerami were dismissed in 2013 on legal grounds.

Prosecutors said the alleged scheme cost the stadium more than $2 million in payments from the promoters and others ​​​​​​to DeStefano, which they suggested played a role “in the financial ruin of the Coliseum,” the site of two Summer Olympic Games and now the temporary home of the Los Angeles Rams. 

USC, whose football team plays at the Coliseum, took control of the stadium after  the corruption scandal, signing a 98-year lease with the Coliseum Commission, which ran it for decades.

The commission has filed a lawsuit against Rotella, Gerami and their companies seeking the return of money paid to DeStefano, who is also named in the civil case. The defendants have denied the claims, and a trial is set for November.  

rong-gong.lin@latimes.com

paul.pringle@latimes.com

marisa.gerber@latimes.com

For more on the Coliseum corruption scandal, follow us on Twitter: @ronlin@PringleLATimes and @marisagerber

MORE LOCAL NEWS

Federal judge is fed up with verbose lawyers and their bloated briefs

Former DWP security chief's suit alleges he was fired for exposing illegal acts

Stockton mayor arrested, accused of playing strip poker with minors and providing them alcohol

 


UPDATES:

4:45 p.m.: This article was updated with some rewriting and responses from defense attorneys in the case.

2:20 p.m.: This article was updated to include the amount of restitution Rotella and Gerami will pay under the plea agreements.

2:05 p.m.: This article has been updated to include Pasquale Rotella’s plea in court.

This article was originally published at 1:40 p.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
55°