S.D. Grand Jury Finds No Police, Call-Girl Ring Link

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ending two years of examinations into allegations that San Diego police officers cavorted with prostitutes employed by "Rolodex Madam" Karen Wilkening, the San Diego County Grand Jury on Thursday found no evidence to link officers to Wilkening or her employees.

Following up on an investigation by the 1989-90 grand jury that included testimony by 53 witnesses, including 44 police officers, the current grand jury emphatically put to rest a series of lingering questions that involved alleged police misconduct.

In concluding its investigation, which relied heavily on testimony given to last year's jury, this year's jury said Thursday it could find no evidence that any police officer, including former Police Chief Bill Kolender, had a sexual relationship with Wilkening or any employees of her escort service. Nor was there evidence of police protection of the call-girl business.

Kolender, who had served as chief for 13 years when he retired in 1988, said he was elated at Thursday's report. The grand jury investigation cost him $10,000, he said, including fees for lawyers and a private detective to help find out who had made accusations against him in front of the grand jury.

"It's been a tough year for my family and me," said Kolender, now an assistant to the publisher of the Union-Tribune Publishing Co. "I love the people in the community, and what they think of me means something. I've been working very hard for this day to come."

The grand jury also found no evidence that police officers perjured themselves in testimony about raiding Wilkening's condominium and seizing a Rolodex that was said to contain names of dozens of prominent businessmen, despite assertions by last year's grand jury that some officers gave "incredible" testimony that "outraged many grand jurors."

Grand Jury Foreman Reno Testolin said some members of this year's jury still believe that officers may have lied during testimony but cannot prove it.

"We certainly did not conclude that they told the truth," he said. "Our only conclusion is to agree with last year's grand jury, and the district attorney and the attorney general's office that a case of perjury could not be made."

The jury also found no evidence that police covered up drug use by members of the San Diego Chargers football team or that former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts was shot and wounded, and police sought to cover up the incident. Both were well-publicized disclosures from grand jury testimony last year.

Police Chief Bob Burgreen smiled broadly at a Thursday morning press conference before declaring the department cleared by the grand jury.

"We spent a long time with our heads under a cloud," he said. "This department--the men and women who work hard every day--should be very pleased with what this report says. I do believe it is a form of vindication."

At the same time, Burgreen acknowledged that in conducting its investigation for the grand jury, the Metropolitan Homicide Task Force has sent allegations of police misconduct against several officers to the department, including the officers' relationship with informants and prostitutes. These were unrelated to Wilkening.

"This report resolved a portion of the serious matters before us; it does not resolve them all," the chief said. "The questions of inappropriate conduct on the part of officers is now being dealt with by this department."

Besides personal police involvement with informants and prostitutes, the department is investigating its narcotics street team and the possibility that money was split between informants and officers during undercover operations.

"We are still concerned about the people referred outside of the grand jury," City Manager Jack McGrory said. "We have an active audit involving the department's special units and on the policies and procedures on paying informants. We are reviewing the paper trail on the use of those funds."

The murders of 44 prostitutes and transients since 1985 and possible police involvement in one of those deaths still "hangs over the head of the department," Burgreen said. In particular, investigators want to know who killed police informant and prostitute Donna Gentile, whose nude body was found six years ago, shortly after she testified against two police officers.

Although that mystery lingers, grand jury foreman Reno Testolin said the report released Thursday answers other questions that it took three grand juries to investigate.

Speculation about possible police involvement with Karen Wilkening and her prostitutes began in 1987 when vice officers raided her call-girl operation and seized a Rolodex from her Linda Vista condominium, said to include a list of prominent San Diego customers.

Two years ago, at the end of the 1988-89 grand jury's term, the district attorney's office asked that the jury begin an investigation into whether the Rolodex had been "sanitized" of well-known names during the police raid.

With only a month to work on the case, the grand jury turned its investigation over to its successors, and the 1989-90 grand jury spent a year Investigating Wilkening, the vice raid, the possibility that former chief Bill Kolender was involved with Wilkening or her business, police favoritism involving the San Diego Chargers and other issues.

That jury concluded that officers may have lied during their testimony, and that some officers personally paid for prostitutes. They determined that police canceled misdemeanor citations involving certain Mission Beach bars because of "poor law enforcement and weak management."

Jurors also concluded at that time that a top commander did not block an investigation into allegations that former San Diego television newsman Michael Tuck took an underage woman to a bar. They also rejected accusations that San Diego vice officers were told to stop enforcing alcohol violations on sales to minors at the Sports Arena and San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Much of the testimony given before the 1989-90 grand jury began to appear a year ago in the San Diego Union. On Thursday, the 1990-91 grand jury criticized the newspaper, saying it "deplores these disclosures and considers the actions of the San Diego Union, its editors and reporters to be irresponsible."

In its report, the grand jury recommended that the county Board of Supervisors urge the state Legislature to repeal the law that protects reporters for refusing to divulge their sources. Repeal of the law, as it relates to grand jury proceedings, would "deny its protection to members of the press."

The 1989-90 grand jury turned over allegations regarding Kolender, Wilkening and other matters to this year's jury, which sought the help of the Metro Homicide Task Force to resolve all outstanding issues.

With the state attorney general's office in charge, six investigators spent seven months and traveled to 10 states to interview more than 200 people. The grand jury heard no new testimony on the case and relied solely on the work of the task force and the transcripts of witnesses who testified last year.

In concluding that it could not prove that police officers were involved with Wilkening or employees of her call-girl service, the grand jury said the information was based on the testimony of one former Wilkening employee who made the accusations by pointing out photos of several officers from a 1989 department yearbook who "appeared familiar" to her.

The accusation that Kolender was involved with Wilkening was based on the testimony of two of her former employees who identified the former police chief as a customer from a police yearbook. One of the employees changed part of her testimony regarding the location of the hotel where she saw Kolender.

The grand jury said it could not prove that Kolender was involved with Wilkening or her employees or that Kolender protected her business from police scrutiny.

Since last year's jury found that police officers arranged or attended parties where "exotic" dancers employed by Wilkening performed, this year's jury recommended that officers do not attend any events in which such dancers are performing "because of the strong likelihood of the link between such entertainment and prostitution activity."

At his press conference Thursday, Burgreen himself acknowledged having attended three parties at which such dancers appeared.

"I just happened to be at the wrong birthday party at the wrong time, and I felt very uncomfortable," he said. "My wife also felt very uncomfortable. We can direct officers to do what I did the last time I was at a party where this occurred. I got up and walked out."

Several grand jury witnesses last year brought up allegations that members of the San Diego Chargers football team received preferential treatment from police, who they said overlooked drug use among players. For some time, two members of the San Diego Police Department were assigned full-time to handle security for the Chargers. They now work exclusively for the football team.

In particular, the grand jury explored an incident in which police allegedly covered up a shooting involving former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts in a condominium with two women. Task force investigators said the two women, Fouts and the officers involved have denied the incident took place. One of the officers passed a polygraph test regarding the incident. The Chargers trainer, team doctor, management and players have all said no shooting occurred.

Grand jury witnesses last year also alleged that Kolender told Chargers players that he blocked a narcotics-related search warrant on their behalf, that a drug-sniffing police dog detected drugs in the Chargers locker room, but that no investigation resulted, and that a San Diego police officer found cocaine on a Chargers player but did not arrest him.

The grand jury concluded Thursday that there was no evidence to support any of the allegations.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°