Lawyer Denies Police Group Leader Broke Law

Times Staff Writers

An attorney for David B. Deluca, a former top-level RTD investigator who is the target of a criminal fraud and theft probe, said Tuesday that his client has not violated the law and appears to be a victim of misunderstandings and oversights.

"We seriously doubt that any type of crime has been committed," said Deluca's Los Angeles attorney, Herman Sillas.

The district attorney's office is investigating allegedly fraudulent solicitation practices used by a long-controversial police association Deluca headed. Until he was fired last week, Deluca was a $46,000-a-year assistant inspector general at the Southern California Rapid Transit District assigned to ferret out misconduct among transit district employees. Before that, he had been a lieutenant in the RTD Police Department.

No charges have been filed in the case. However, the district attorney's office has said it expects to charge Deluca in connection with allegedly deceptive fund-raising techniques employed by the Police Officers Assn. Ball of Los Angeles County Inc., a group that allegedly solicited money over the telephone in the name of charity.

Most of the $300,000 the group raised was actually used to pay for trips and a gym used by Deluca and a small group of members, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Julie Sergojan.

Sillas, who Tuesday offered the first public response to the allegations on Deluca's behalf, said: "It is our position that the money that was raised and the use of the monies were within the authority of the organization."

Sillas said he did not know how many active members the police association has, or how much money the group has raised.

Sergojan has said Deluca's group held itself out as a tax-exempt, nonprofit charitable organization but was not registered with the state as required. Sillas said he is still investigating that issue but insisted that Deluca "clearly thought he was" properly registered as a charitable organization.

Sillas also denied that Deluca had stolen blank official transit police identification cards. The cards were found by investigators during a search of Deluca's home earlier this month. RTD Police Chief James Burgess told The Times on Monday that the cards were taken "without authorization" and that theft charges may be filed.

Sillas said the identification cards were an "old style (and) outdated" and Deluca had them because he intended to make "some type of display (for the department). . . ."

"It was just an oversight," Sillas said. "Quite frankly, he had forgotten he had them in his possession."

Sillas, a prominent, politically active Latino, who as a U.S. attorney in California was one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the Carter Administration, said his firm will cooperate with the district attorney's office in hopes of convincing prosecutors that Deluca's group "was complying with existing law."

According to documents accompanying a search warrant filed in Los Angeles Municipal Court, Deluca identified four other officers of his police association. RTD officials Tuesday confirmed that two of those officers are employees of the transit district. One is an RTD police officer and the other is a police dispatcher.

Both Burgess and RTD Inspector General Ernesto Fuentes said they are investigating whether any of their employees were improperly involved with Deluca's association.

'Protected Activity'

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles city official said Tuesday that he advised the Police Commission last year to grant Deluca's group a permit to solicit funds because the city did not have enough evidence against the organization to deny the request.

"This is a First Amendment-protected activity, according to the U.S. Supreme Court," said Assistant City Atty. Byron R. Boeckman, "and so to prohibit it at the outset . . . requires a narrow, specific, articulable foundation for that denial. . . . It's prior restraint."

John F. Horan, a Police Commission hearing officer, had recommended against issuing the solicitation permit. In a written opinion, Horan suggested that Deluca's group had violated both city ordinances and the California Business and Professional Code.

"It was my view that I agreed with a lot of what Mr. Horan said," Boeckman said, "but it would not constitute the kind of evidence to restrain in advance what might be conducted as a lawful solicitation on behalf of a police officer organization."

The Police Commission issued the permit last February, Boeckman said, but Deluca's organization never used it to solicit money within the city limit.

"We were waiting for them, because we were anticipating that they would unlawfully solicit, but they never did," Boeckman said.

Boeckman said he was not aware whether the association used the Los Angeles city permit as a reference when it solicited for money outside of the city.

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