Police Fund-Raisers Questioned
The letter from the city official was pointed.
Paid solicitors for a group of California lawmen had been violating local ordinances by asking Los Angeles businessmen for “charitable” donations that were actually used to help the officers pay their insurance premiums.
“This department through years of experience knows the magic sound of ‘Police or law enforcement officer,’ ” wrote Los Angeles city investigator Frank E. Kelly. When businessmen receive requests for money from such groups, Kelly explained, they usually assume that a contribution will “give them what they think is ‘special privileges.’ ” Over the years, he added, the practice has prompted “numerous inquiries and complaints. . . .”
The letter, to a sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department, was dated Jan. 30, 1957.
In the intervening 30 years, city and state officials said in a series of recent interviews, questionable fund-raising campaigns on behalf of organizations that represent law enforcement officers have, if anything, become more common--and more troublesome.
Last week, investigators for the Los Angeles Police Commission ordered the operators of a Santa Monica telephone bank to stop soliciting advertisements for a drug awareness manual sponsored by the Los Angeles Unified School District Police Officers Assn. The investigators alleged that the solicitors were operating without permits, and were less than candid with donors about whom the advertising dollars would benefit.
In what several officials described as a more serious case, the major frauds division of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for the last four months has been investigating a campaign conducted for an organization called the Police Officers Assn. Ball of Los Angeles County Inc. One deputy district attorney estimated that the public gave the group as much as $300,000 in a 30-month period.
While the organization held itself out as a charitable and tax-exempt group, it was neither, according to an investigator’s affidavit filed in Los Angeles Municipal Court. Its main purposes were to operate a gymnasium for its members to pay for their food and lodging at athletic events, a hearing officer for the Los Angeles city attorney’s office concluded.
In addition to these cases, Los Angeles city officials who regulate charitable solicitations say they have opened files on at least 10 other law enforcement organizations whose fund-raising activities have prompted inquiries or complaints.
But several officials said these efforts to control the problem belie the difficulty of enforcing the state law and two Los Angeles ordinances that govern the fund-raising. Generally, the law and the ordinances require disclosure of who will benefit from the contribution.
“What you’re left with is a specific set of facts involving a specific phone call, a specific solicitation,” said Sue L. Frauens, who heads the Los Angeles city attorney’s consumer protection section. “And how do you go up the hierarchy . . . to show that (top officials) had knowledge of that call?”
George Delianedis, assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Social Service Department, the agency responsible for keeping an eye on charitable solicitations within city limits, believes that there is another problem.
Enforcement in many communities, he said, “is not a high-priority item.” As a result, Delianedis said, police associations often “are above the law.”
Public officials, officers of law enforcement groups and the paid solicitors they hire disagreed over the extent to which shady fund-raisers are bilking the public. But most concurred that, whether the effort is legitimate or not, soliciting money on behalf of lawmen is a big business.
Los Angeles Police Detective R. K. Rudell, who investigates complaints of illegal solicitations for the city police commission, said fund-raisers who work without permits usually are those whose pitches are most misleading.