State officials disclosed Monday that the FBI has joined their investigation of an arson fire in a state-leased office building in Los Angeles that housed regulatory files relating to the troubled Lincoln Savings & Loan Assn.
Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Government Efficiency and Consumer Protection, said federal agents are apparently interested in determining if the fire was connected to the "savings and loan scandal in California."
A spokesman for the FBI said the agency would neither confirm nor deny its involvement in any investigation of Lincoln.
The March 2 blaze, which began on the 15th floor of the CNA building at 600 S. Commonwealth Ave., loosened asbestos throughout several upper floors in the structure, forcing state employees to evacuate their offices. At the time, the Savings and Loan Department, the Corporations Department, the Banking Department and the governor were leasing space in the building.
Contaminated as a result of the fire were boxes of files relating to Irvine-based Lincoln Savings & Loan, the financially distressed thrift that was seized by federal regulators last April 14. The seizure came one day after its parent company, American Continental Corp., filed for bankruptcy.
In an Oct. 30 letter to Eastin, David Walizer, chief deputy state fire marshal, said investigators have determined the fire was arson and that they expect to present evidence about their prime suspect to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office in the next few days. He also noted that the FBI is involved in the investigation.
"It is unknown if the suspect was acting alone or in concert with other persons," Walizer said in a letter to Eastin.
Eastin has been conducting hearings on the fire to find out why it took the state Department of General Services nearly eight months to retrieve some of the Lincoln files from the building.
Paul Savona, the department's chief of real estate and design services, on Monday blamed the delay on officials' inability to enter the upper floors of the building because of a lease dispute with its owner.
Shirley Thayer, senior staff counsel for the Savings and Loan Department, said the files covered a period in the mid-1980s which is not the central focus of the investigation of Lincoln Savings & Loan.
Under questioning from Eastin, Thayer conceded that officials have no way of knowing if any files were destroyed or tampered with in the months after the state offices were evacuated.