The Los Angeles Police Department is examining allegations that its drug czar, Deputy Chief Glenn A. Levant, dispatched a team of elite narcotics detectives outside city limits to investigate burglaries at a chic hotel whose owner has business ties to two relatives of Levant, The Times has learned.
Detectives spent two days last November staking out Le Mondrian hotel in West Hollywood after a representative of the hotel's owner called Levant, sources said.
Le Mondrian's owner, Severyn Ashkenazy, employs Levant's brother-in-law, Richard Chase, as president of a company based in Le Mondrian.
In 1988, Chase arranged a six-figure deal between one of Ashkenazy's companies and the LAPD to rent unmarked cars for use by detectives under Levant's command, according to company officials.
Ashkenazy also has business ties to Levant's wife, Jayne. He helps fund and direct a hotel referral service that she runs from an office in Beverly Hills.
In addition, Ashkenazy sits on the 100-member board of a non-profit organization that raises money for Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), the Police Department's acclaimed anti-narcotics school program that Levant directs.
Questions involving the Le Mondrian investigation surfaced earlier this year during a routine management audit of all narcotics operations, police sources said.
Levant, 49, said he has done nothing improper. He declined to publicly discuss matters relating to Le Mondrian except to say that "there was a logical investigative reason" for sending officers to the hotel.
Police Department policy, Levant said, prevented him from responding more fully pending the outcome of the audit, which is being coordinated by a top aide to Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
Levant pointed out that it was he who initiated the audit in January to assess all facets of the LAPD's anti-narcotics activities.
Gates, through a spokesman, also declined to answer questions about Levant until the audit is completed. That process is expected to take at least another three weeks.
The Police Department has a conflict-of-interest code that requires officers to submit a statement of disqualification to the chief "if they believe that they are involved in a department decision-making process in which they have a conflict of interest." The department's manual does not make clear what is considered a conflict.
Gates's spokesman, Cmdr. William Booth, declined to comment on whether Levant filed a disqualification statement on matters relating to Le Mondrian.
A Los Angeles police officer for 27 years, Levant is regarded by some in the department as a contender to eventually succeed Gates.
Gates named Levant deputy chief in September, 1987, and to the informal position of drug czar four months later.
Levant devotes much of his time raising public support for DARE, whose annual budget has grown to more than $1 million under his direction. Levant also oversees various department functions, including the internal affairs and organized crime divisions. He commands nearly 400 narcotics investigators and has broad discretion in setting their missions.
One such mission involved Le Mondrian, according to police sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Nov. 20-21, a team of detectives assigned to the LAPD's Major Violators Section, which normally investigates top-level drug traffickers, went to the hotel at Levant's direction, sources said.
Several detectives checked into two rooms at the hotel. They set up electronic surveillance equipment and left an undisclosed amount of "bait" money in one room and monitored the room from the other room.
The next day, after no one had taken the money, the detectives ended the stakeout and left the hotel, sources said.
The officers eventually were paid overtime by the city for the two-day surveillance and were reimbursed for their expenses, said one source.
Police officials would not say how much the operation cost.
It is not uncommon for detectives from the 47 municipal law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County to conduct surveillance outside their normal geographic areas of assignment. But normally, they pursue investigations that are initiated within their own jurisdiction.
In this case, the theft complaint was initiated in Los Angeles County, not the city of Los Angeles.
As a rule, police are required to alert officials of the city in which they are temporarily operating.
In the case of Le Mondrian, sources said, detectives telephoned the watch commander at the sheriff's West Hollywood station in advance.
What was unusual, sources said, was the nature of the investigation itself.
"These (detectives) are heavy hitters who go after big fish, Colombians," said one officer. "This case had nothing to do with narcotics. There was a problem with (theft). It was a waste of their time. But, hey, (Levant is) the drug czar. How you gonna say no?"
According to Ashkenazy, the LAPD investigation came about after several guests complained of thefts from their rooms. Those burglaries, he said, happened to coincide with rumors that a drug ring had set up shop in the hotel.
"We arranged for the Police Department . . . to come and see what it was we had here," Ashkenazy said. "Strange enough, it ceased as soon as the word got out."
Asked why the Le Mondrian did not request assistance from the Sheriff's Department, in whose jurisdiction Le Mondrian is located, Ashkenazy said, "The sheriff is not equipped to deal with drugs."
Deputies at the West Hollywood station--which is less than a mile from Le Mondrian--said they could not recall being notified by LAPD about any problems at the hotel.
The sheriff's narcotics chief disputed Ashkenazy's assertion that his department was not equipped to handle such a case. "Had they called the sheriff," Capt. Bob Wilbur said, "we would have responded and we would have done surveillance."
Ashkenazy's executive vice president, attorney Gary W. Nielsen, said he contacted Levant to discuss thefts at the hotel--including the theft of some drugs from a guest about two months earlier.
"I didn't call to report a crime, but to initially ask for some advice on a matter I viewed as sensitive," Nielsen said. Nielsen called Levant, he said, because he "wanted someone with expertise . . . I see him once in a while at parties and at dinners . . . It's a first name basis. He is a person I admire very much."
Nielsen said he asked Levant whether the hotel should hire a private detective.
"I think he told me there weren't private detectives that would have much knowledge about drugs and that this was something his department would look into," Nielsen recalled.
Other hotels commonly hire private investigative agencies to take on such cases, according to detectives and hoteliers.
Since August, 1988, Levant's brother-in-law, Richard Chase, has been president of an Ashkenazy company, Resources Exchange, located on the second floor of Le Mondrian.
The company barters goods and services ranging from hotel rooms to billboard advertising in exchange for items of equal or greater value.
According to Nielsen, Chase "made the deal" to sell rental car services to the Police Department in late 1988. Chase traded billboard and bus stop advertising to RPM Rent-a-Car of Los Angeles for more than $100,000 in rental car services, Neilsen said.
The rental car services then were sold to the Police Department for use by plainclothes officers. Nielsen said the cars cost the department "20% less than they were paying" at the time to other rental companies.
Chase, according to Nielsen, "was very proud of the fact that it was one of his first or second deals." The arrangement with RPM was one of several negotiated by Chase that year.
"The company had a good year (in 1989) and this was a small part of that good year," Nielsen said. "He got a bonus for 1989."
The car rental arrangement ended about a year later, in part because virtually every RPM car was white, which distressed narcotics officers.
"You can imagine getting followed by six or seven white cars," said one officer. "It was a joke."
Neither Neilsen nor RPM officials would disclose the specific value of the rental car transaction. City Controller Rick Tuttle's office also was unable to provide details.
"There are certain accounts controlled by the Police Department that are not public," said Barbara Friedman, administrative deputy controller.
Nielsen said he did not know whether Levant had any role in the rental car negotiations or approved the deal. However, sources said the deal came about after Levant contacted Ashkenazy regarding car rentals. Chase could not be reached for comment.
His sister and Levant's wife--Jayne Levant--is executive vice president of Small Luxury Hotels Inc., an international association of 32 hotels and resorts.
Ashkenazy helped found the association and is one of its current directors, according to J. William Sharman Jr., a Houston, Tex., businessman who serves as the organization's chairman. Sharman said the association was conceived 4 1/2 years ago by Jayne Levant.
Sharman said that the association acts as a referral, reservations and promotional service for Ashkenazy and other member hotel operators. The hotel operators pay an initiation fee, plus $12 per room per month to the association.
Ashkenazy also is among about 100 business and community leaders who serve as directors of the non-profit Crime Prevention Advisory Council (CPAC), which raises funds and organizes charity functions for DARE. The council operates out of Levant's office and he is its executive officer, the organization's 1988 tax return shows.
Each CPAC director is asked to contribute at least $1,000 a year to DARE.
Ashkenazy said he was not certain how much he has donated, although Nielsen said that Ashkenazy contributes free meeting facilities and price breaks on meal tabs at his Bel Age hotel.
Ashkenazy scoffed when asked by The Times whether Levant sent detectives to Le Mondrian as a personal favor.
"This is utter nonsense, you're barking up a silly tree," Ashkenazy said. "He (Levant) is a highly ethical man, a very bright man."