San Diego Police Chief Defends Gifts as Proper

Times Staff Writers

Police Chief Bill Kolender has accepted a variety of gifts worth thousands of dollars from influential San Diegans, a practice that violates his department's own ethics policy and is frowned upon by many police executives.

Some gifts have come from sources who later had traffic tickets dismissed by the chief's office. Others may pose a conflict of interest because the donors have business connections with the Police Department or the city.

Kolender declined to discuss specific cases, but adamantly denied that he has ever accepted an inappropriate gift.

"I don't take gratuities or anything like that," Kolender said Friday. "I have taken the sports things. I don't take any kind of alcohol. I don't let someone take me out who does business with the city and the Police Department."

The free items include vacations in Hawaii and Palm Springs; rides in limousines; season tickets to Charger football games; a pass that allows him into any National League baseball game; a pair of annual passes to Sea World and an oil portrait of himself.

A Times investigation revealed last week that Kolender and his top aides have dismissed thousands of parking citations and at least 30 moving violations, some with fabricated excuses, for influential San Diegans, friends, relatives and the media.

As City Manager John Lockwood continued an investigation into the ticket-fixing practices as well as other allegations, Kolender said Friday he remains confident that he will "prevail." He told reporters he wants to continue to "set an example" for officers and "provide them leadership."

But if lower-ranked San Diego police officers followed Kolender's example by accepting gifts, they could expect to face discipline.

Police officers are prohibited from accepting "any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or any other thing of nominal monetary value" from anyone who remotely deals or comes in contact with the Police Department. The policy states that "at no time shall an officer accept free meals or drinks, reduced prices or any other consideration that is not regularly enjoyed by the public."

The department is so strict in enforcing its policy that it has disciplined officers for taking a free cup of coffee, said Patrick J. Thistle, an attorney who represents about 200 officers in personnel matters.

'May Be Contradiction'

Asked if the chief's acceptance of gifts contradicts department rules, spokesman Cmdr. Keith Enerson said: "We have a policy that you don't take free freebies, and I think that we all should adhere to that policy. On the surface, it appears there may be some contradiction."

Many of the gifts accepted by Kolender, who earns $76,800, were listed in a diary prepared by Officer Jeanne Taylor, who worked as a receptionist for two years in the chief's office. Taylor prepared the diary, which was presented recently to the Civil Service Commission, because she objected to the personal errands she was required to do for Kolender and other top officers.

On some occasions, Kolender and his top assistants have done favors for friends who have given the chief gifts.

For example, since 1981, San Diego Padres President Ballard Smith has sent Kolender an annual baseball pass that grants him and a guest free admittance to any National League ballpark.

Ticket Dismissed

In October, 1982, Smith's wife, Linda, was cited for making an illegal turn on La Jolla Boulevard. Linda Smith showed the ticket to a family employee, former police Detective Wally Yeatts, who took the citation to an officer in Kolender's office. The ticket was dismissed.

Ballard Smith said in an interview that he does not approve of asking police officials to dismiss tickets. "I would suspect Bill probably feels the same way now," Smith said. "It probably puts forth an appearance of impropriety that none of us wants."

City Manager Lockwood said Friday that, among other allegations, he also is investigating Kolender's acceptance of four season tickets from the San Diego Chargers. Kolender said the tickets are a gift to the Police Department in his name, and he distributes them as perks among his top officers.

Chargers General Manager Johnny Sanders said the tickets have been donated to the department at least since Kolender became chief in 1975. Within the last five years at least four members of the Chargers organization, including head coach Al Saunders, have had moving citations fixed by high-ranking officers, police officials acknowledge.

Not Bothered by Fixing

Sanders said he was not bothered by members of the Chargers organization getting their traffic tickets fixed by top police officials.

"I don't see any problem," Sanders said. "I hadn't even thought about it. It's their personal lives. I don't see where the Chargers are involved in any way."

There are other ties between the Police Department and the Chargers. The Police Department and the Chargers now split the annual $40,000 cost to assign police officers to provide security at home football games.

Officers Dick Lewis and George Varela are paid overtime by the Chargers to protect the team at home and away games. Both officers have received complimentary tickets, club officials said. Last year, Lewis arranged to dismiss a $52 parking ticket for Chargers booster Earnest Stanley, president of Stanley Dodge in National City.

Other free gifts accepted by Kolender include the following:

- In a sworn deposition, Kolender stated in 1983 that he had accepted between five and seven free limousine rides from Presidential Limousine Service. The chief said the local company is run by his "high school buddy" and a lifelong friend, Frank Madarocci and Ron Wheatcroft.

The comments were made as part of a lawsuit filed by the owners of a rival firm who claimed that the Police Department drove them out of business by constantly citing their vehicles.

Kolender also traveled in a limousine paid for by Nancy Hoover, a one-time socialite who helped run the fraudulent J. David financial empire and later pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

- On a disclosure form for 1984, Kolender listed a trip to Hawaii and use of a condominium contributed by Larry Cushman, whose family has investments that include landholdings in Mission Valley. Cushman's brother, Steve, owns Cush Travel, the travel agency used by the Police Department. City records show that the Police Department booked $83,734 worth of travel through the agency, while other city departments booked $55,600 in travel costs.

- Kolender routinely receives two annual passes to Sea World, said Jackie Hill, the park's public relations director. Each pass is worth $35. Officer Taylor listed the passes in her diary when she wrote in February, 1981, that she was asked to "set up two free passes for Marilyn Kolender at Sea World." Marilyn Kolender is the chief's former wife.

- In December, 1984, Joan Kroc, one of the richest people in the country and owner of the Padres, gave Kolender a vacation in Palm Springs, according to the chief's economic disclosure statement. The Police Department provides security for Padres home games. Kroc's daughter is Linda Smith, who had a traffic citation dismissed in 1982.

- Kolender at first accepted, then returned, a large oil painting of himself in 1981 by Suzanne Arthimese. Taylor wrote in her diary that she had to check out a police van to haul the painting to Kolender's home before bringing it back.

Arthimese said it was her idea to donate the painting. But she said she wasn't aware that Kolender had the painting taken to his home, and that she intended the portrait to hang in police headquarters.

"I would like the signed paintings of important people to be hanging in public buildings as they are in cities in the East, as they are in Europe," Arthimese said.

Damaging to Image

Asked why the painting was returned, Arthimese said: "I painted a large painting, and they needed more wall space."

Coronado Police Chief Jerry Boyd said the acceptance of "a freebie" by a police administrator can be even more damaging to a department's image than if an officer takes a gift.

"Somebody will offer something. It is declined. Then months later you find out that, had it been accepted, that person had fully intended to use it for some kind of twist," said Boyd, who teaches police ethics at the San Diego County Sheriff's Academy. "I just don't think the risk is worth it."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°