Intelligence Units Across U.S. Probe Alleged LAPD Leak

Times Staff Writers

Law enforcement agencies across the country are scrambling to determine whether any investigations have been compromised by a case in which two Los Angeles police detectives from an organized crime unit allegedly leaked confidential information.

The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit, an organization of 265 state and local police intelligence agencies, will consider the Los Angeles case when its directors meet this fall, according to the agency's chairman, Richard Bacon. If the group is not satisfied that the LAPD has handled the matter thoroughly, it could suspend or terminate the Police Department's membership in the group, he said.

"Any time you have a problem in intelligence, it's a concern to the rest of our membership," said Bacon, who heads the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

"We have to assess how deep it goes," added a police intelligence supervisor on the East Coast who asked not to be identified. "How much information was given? We're interviewing (our) people. We don't know how much damage was done. It could have jeopardized entire investigations."

Capt. Stuart Finck, head of the LAPD's Organized Crime Intelligence Division, is national secretary of the LEIU. Finck said Wednesday that he was unaware of any plans by the national organization to review the case.

One of the officers, John J. St. John, 53, a 25-year veteran of the department who specialized in the entertainment industry, took early retirement Feb. 5 after being questioned by department investigators. (He is not to be confused with John P. St. John, the homicide detective who inspired the television series "Jigsaw John.")

The other officer under suspicion, Louis Graham, 45, a specialist in the Gambino crime family who has worked for the department for 20 years, has been suspended for a month without pay.

When word of the purported leaks first surfaced earlier this year, police spokesmen sought to dismiss the incident as merely a case of officers getting "too close to their sources." In the ensuing months, however, new details of the investigation have emerged, from informed sources and in documents, that raise more questions.

The Times has learned that both officers have admitted to investigators that they accepted video and audio tapes from investigative targets, an apparent violation of department policy.

Moreover, there are new disclosures that St. John's name was overheard on a federal wiretap of suspected organized crime figures in Chicago, and that he was later caught passing on planted information in an FBI sting operation in Los Angeles.

Based on this information, law enforcement officials have now taken steps to determine whether investigations throughout the nation may have been compromised, including:

- A secret Chicago federal grand jury probe into possible bribes paid to union officials to obtain contracts for health benefit programs offered to government agencies, private companies and labor unions in Chicago, San Francisco, Honolulu, Baltimore and Washington.

The owner of two health benefits companies that were among the firms under investigation, Angelo T. Commito of Fairfax, Calif., is an acquaintance of a man who was in regular contact with St. John, law enforcement sources said.

Government investigators have reportedly executed search warrants to obtain documents in connection with the probe from several major labor unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Service Employees International and United Auto Workers and from such employers as Rockwell International Corp. and McDonnell Douglas Corp.

The government is also investigating possible ties between Commito's companies and organized crime figures in New York and Chicago, according to a variety of sources.

It was in this investigation that St. John's name first was overheard during one of the wiretaps. Commito's lawyers did not return phone calls for comment.

- A federal investigation in Los Angeles into suspected labor racketeering and organized crime infiltration in the movie industry. One focus of the investigation is sometime labor negotiator Martin Bacow, 66, a longtime friend of St. John and a man who FBI officials believe may have acted as a conduit for organized crime to collect payoffs for labor peace from movie industry officials, according to a confidential investigative report.

Bacow has vehemently denied the allegations, saying he performs labor negotiations as a favor for friends in the movie industry at no charge. He has also denied any business ties to organized crime, though he admits friendships with some organized crime figures.

"Nobody from organized crime do I deal with," Bacow said. "There's not one nickel ever been (exchanged) between organized crime and myself. They can't even come near me. This is an out-and-out lie."

- A federal investigation in Florida into the activities of Natale Richichi, identified by Florida law enforcement officials as a captain in the Gambino organized crime family. Richichi, who spends time in Palm Springs, has for several years managed pornography operations for the Gambino family, according to a variety of law enforcement officials.

FBI agents monitoring a wiretap overheard St. John discussing with Bacow a federal surveillance operation against Richichi in Florida, sources said. Moreover, there is some evidence that Richichi may subsequently have been warned about the investigation, the sources said. Richichi has never commented on the investigation.

Suspicions Aroused

Suspicions about St. John were first aroused when his name came up during the Chicago wiretap involving Commito, sources said, and were apparently confirmed when the FBI mounted a sting operation against St. John by feeding the detective "non-sensitive information" about what was characterized as a "super-secret" operation.

"They knew he (St. John) was leaking" when the information surfaced during a wiretapped telephone conversation between St. John and Bacow, the sources said.

Last December, U.S. District Judge J. Spencer Letts authorized the FBI to tap nine telephones used by St. John and Graham within the LAPD's Organized Crime Intelligence Division. The telephone monitoring lasted from Dec. 28, 1987, through Feb. 4, according to intelligence documents obtained by The Times. Bacow's home telephone was tapped from March 27, 1987, through Feb. 6, 1988, according to the documents.

A federal grand jury will be asked to decide whether St. John should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice in connection with the leaks, sources said.

Should Have Reported Contacts

Graham is not believed to be the main target because, investigators say, it was St. John who had most of the contacts with Bacow. They add, however, that because Graham was St. John's partner, he should have reported those contacts to his commanding officer.

The grand jury will also look at allegations that St. John received gratuities--videotapes and music cassettes--from Bacow and an unidentified film industry executive in violation of department regulations.

St. John has admitted to police investigators that he received three videotapes, including "The Gangster Chronicles" and "The Sting," in November of 1987, according to intelligence reports. Graham also told investigators he received those tapes and said he would "assume or say, yes, it was a gratuity," according to an investigative report.

According to FBI wiretaps, Bacow telephoned the OCID office on April 1, 1987, and asked to speak to St. John. Graham told him St. John was on another line and proceeded to thank him for something Bacow had given him. Bacow replied: "I'll get a hold of stuff for you, don't worry about that. . . . Don't worry, I will be getting you stuff from time to time."

Asked to respond, Bacow said "stuff" referred to "research material" for his film proposal on the life of the late legendary mob figure Meyer Lansky, for which St. John planned to act as technical adviser.

Some of the research material, Bacow acknowledged, consisted of cassettes that he provided for the two detectives.

"They (St. John and Graham) never took any gratuities. It was loaned to them," he said. He characterized the cassette issue as "a damned cheap shot" by investigators.

Both detectives and their attorneys have refused to comment on the new allegations.

Lt. Fred Nixon, an LAPD spokesman, said he has no information on whether the two officers accepted videotapes from Bacow, but he said it is a violation of department policy for any officer to accept gratuities.

The department's Internal Affairs Division has concluded its investigation of the two detectives. The department took no action against St. John because he took early retirement. Graham is expected to be reassigned to another unit.

If suspended from the LEIU, Los Angeles officers would be cut off from a valuable, nationwide intelligence network in an area of criminal activity that often transcends state lines.

A variety of local police agencies have been barred from the organization in past years for suspected security breaches, including the Las Vegas Police Department, which has not been a member of LEIU since 1978, and the Houston Police Department, which was suspended for nearly 10 years in the mid-1970s for allegedly leaking contents of supposedly confidential files to city officials.

One intelligence official in the East, who asked to remain anonymous, said his agency is interviewing detectives one at a time to determine who talked with St. John and Graham in recent months and what was said.

"You spend years building contacts and networks of information and all of a sudden you learn it was a mistake," he said in a telephone interview. "Then you have to find out who shared what and where it went."

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