LAX Police Group Told to Cease Fund Drive

Times Staff Writer

The association representing Los Angeles International Airport police has been ordered by Los Angeles city authorities to halt a telephone fund-solicitation campaign as a result of complaints made to the city's Social Services Department.

George Delianedis, chief investigator for the department, said the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., in conjunction with Starbuck Productions, a Redondo Beach-based telephone solicitation firm, had been seeking funds without a city charity fund-raising license.

Delianedis said his department initially issued a cease and desist order last December but learned last week that the solicitations had continued.

After further communication with the association--which represents more than 200 officers at LAX, Van Nuys and Ontario airports--the department has received assurances from the association that the solicitations have finally stopped, he said.

According to Delianedis, the contract signed by the association and Starbuck called for the police to receive 20% of the funds raised by the telephone solicitation firm, whose owner is listed as Michael Debonis. The contract calls for Starbuck to present a benefit show at El Camino College on May 17, hosted by an entertainer named Donnie Brooks.

Attorney Didn't Know

Calls to association president Alex Bernard were referred to Richard Kreisler, an attorney representing the police association. Kreisler said he did not know who Donnie Brooks was, did not know whether the show would now proceed and did not know how much money the association had received from Starbuck.

Kreisler refused to disclose details of how the association would use the money, except to say it would go "both for charitable and for business reasons connected to the operation of the association."

Starbuck's office at 1300 S. Pacific Coast Highway was locked and deserted late last week and Kreisler said it appeared that the firm was shutting down its solicitation effort in Los Angeles County--even though the cease and desist order applied only to solicitations made within Los Angeles city limits.

"When I spoke with Starbuck, they seemed to indicate they were going to cease operations within Los Angeles County," Kreisler said. "I don't know whether a show will or won't proceed."

He added that the association had expressed concern to Starbuck about the complaints.

Kreisler said he was unaware whether citizens who responded to the telephone solicitation were aware that only 20% of the funds were targeted for the police association.

"I generally don't know what the solicitors tell people both for Starbuck and other producers," he said.

80% Figure Defended

Kreisler added that he did not believe that an 80% overhead cost for putting on a show was improper. "There's a massive business cost involved in putting on one of these shows," he said.

George Howison, chief of the LAX police bureau, said he also had contacted the police association recently about possible misrepresentations in the solicitation campaign.

"Our concern was they (the solicitors) were misrepresenting themselves as the airport police bureau," he said.

Howison said he informed Bernard that solicitors should not represent themselves as police officers and that they should make clear that the funds sought were on behalf of the police association and not the police bureau itself.

"We didn't want misrepresentation that the solicitations were coming from the airport police bureau, which it is not," he said. "It's the solicitation company."

No Permit Required

Redondo Beach authorities said that because the city, unlike Los Angeles, does not require a permit for charitable fund raising, few controls can be exercised over such firms as Starbuck.

"All he needs is a business license to run a 'boiler room,' " said Police Lt. Tom Freeman. "I haven't heard any complaints on this specific program."

Starbuck, whose offices consist of a one-room phone bank--with no sign on the door--in a small South Redondo shopping center, did receive a city business license last November, city officials said. On the license, the firm's business is listed as telephone soliciting and the sale of advertisements and tickets for variety shows.

Larry Campbell, head of the state's Registry of Charitable Trusts in Sacramento, said that unlike in several other states, the solicitation of funds for charity in California is regulated at the local rather than the state level.

"If there's pressure, they just move to the next city and start the same process," Campbell said. "We need an effective state law that prevents them from being able to hop from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."

Unaware of Solicitation

Campbell said he was unaware of the details of Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn. solicitation. He added, however, that he has run across many examples of the public being misled by solicitations on behalf of uniformed officers' associations.

"What is discouraging in my business," he said, "is that police and fire organizations are most frequently involved in misleading the public in these solicitations. It's a violation of the public trust for these organizations to be involved in these questionable practices.

"Usually the pitch is vague enough so the public thinks it is doing a charitable act."

In recent months, the Los Angeles Police Department--which is separate from the airport police bureau--has been conducting an investigation into the airport police.

Last October, the LAPD's Internal Affairs Division executed search warrants on airport police payroll records, overtime payment reports, work schedules and any property that may have been stolen or embezzled, according to an airport police officer who witnessed the search.

LAPD spokesman Willie Wilson said last week that the investigation is continuing but added that he had no information that investigators were looking into the association's solicitation campaign.


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