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Vice Trial’s Collapse Accelerates Extradition

Times Staff Writer

The extradition of a Van Nuys man this week from England to Los Angeles on fraud charges was prompted by the collapse of a celebrated vice trial in London amid claims that a high-priced prostitute was the mistress of a veteran Scotland Yard detective.

The unexpected end of the trial forced prosecutors to swiftly draw up extradition papers to secure the return to Los Angeles of Thomas Leonard Balla, Assistant U.S. Atty. David A. Katz said Friday.

“We had to scramble,” Katz said.

Balla, who is suspected of defrauding hundreds of U.S. businesses out of $1 million through unpaid credit orders, using an Oxnard storefront and two Canoga Park warehouses, is being held without bail at the federal prison on Terminal Island.

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The strange events in London led to breathless prose in British tabloids about what one paper called the “raven-haired” prostitute and the vice trial that included Balla, 25, and a Calabasas man as two of the five defendants.

Balla Kept Clippings

“He collected lots of articles about his case,” Katz said of photocopied newspaper clippings that Balla carried in his suitcase as U.S. marshals escorted him from London to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The articles, supported by American and British legal documents, tell an odd tale. They recount the trial of Balla, former Calabasas resident James Foster, 42, and three British subjects who were accused of running a credit-card call-girl ring in the fashionable Mayfair district in London’s West End. Police said the ring employed more than 200 prostitutes.

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Balla and Foster were arrested Sept. 28, 1987, in London. Through Interpol, the international police organization, British officials learned that Balla had been named in the United States in a 20-count federal indictment on June 4, 1986, Katz said.

Balla apparently left the United States before the indictment was handed down, Katz said.

After British authorities notified U.S. officials of Balla’s arrest in London, prosecutors in Los Angeles expected a long wait before extradition proceedings could begin, Katz said. Prosecutors knew that they would have to wait until Balla’s trail was over or, if he was convicted, until he had completed his prison sentence in England, he said.

It didn’t work that way.

Trial’s Surprise Ending

According to British press accounts, Balla’s trial reached a speedy, if bizarre, conclusion in early June. A prostitute told Scotland Yard officials that she was the mistress of the lead detective who had investigated the call-girl ring. “Although he was tubby and balding, he was a great lover,” she told one tabloid.

British prosecutors apparently felt that the bad publicity compromised their case and dropped the charges against Balla and his co-defendants June 8, Katz said, the day before the trial was to begin.

One newspaper later sarcastically referred to the detective as a “Mr Clean vice cop” who spent weekdays with his mistress in London and weekends in the country with his family. The paper said the detective’s “amazing double life” ended when a “passionate Yemeni-born hooker . . . who makes more than 300 pounds a night, reported their illicit fling to his bosses.” At current exchange rates, 300 pounds equals about $540.

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The demise of the case took prosecutors on both sides of the Atlantic by surprise.

Katz said he and J. Jill Crivelli, a postal inspector, had set the Balla case aside to handle more pressing prosecutions. When London officials called in June to say that Balla would be set free, Crivelli and Katz rushed to complete an extradition request a few weeks later.

Although Balla had originally been charged in a 20-count federal indictment, prosecutors had only enough time to support 15 counts in their extradition request because extradition requirements in the United Kingdom are more stringent than in most countries, Katz said.

English courts require notarized copies of much of the evidence that would be presented at a trial, instead of simple declarations that the fugitive is charged with a crime, Katz said.

If convicted, Balla could be fined $250,000 and sentenced to 5 years in prison for each of the 15 fraud counts, which is now all he can be charged with.

Katz said Balla set up a phony retail store in Oxnard to receive merchandise from wholesalers--including electronic goods, clothing and exercise equipment. The merchandise was later resold through the warehouses in Canoga Park. Few of the wholesalers were paid for the goods that they sent Balla, he said.


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