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Receipts Indicate Chief Received Free Rooms in Las Vegas : LAPD: Hotel records prompted Police Commission to reprimand Williams after he denied accepting free lodgings. His attorney decries a campaign to discredit him.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although Police Chief Willie L. Williams repeatedly told his bosses in writing that he never received free accommodations in Las Vegas, receipts from Caesars Palace reveal that he and his family were given “comped” lodging, phone calls and room service valued at more than $1,500, according to the Police Commission’s confidential investigation of the chief.

On at least one occasion, the accommodations were approved by Henry Gluck, the chief executive officer of Caesars World Inc., the documents reveal.

The documents obtained by The Times publicly disclose for the first time why the commission, in an extraordinary move, unanimously concluded that Williams had misled them. The file contains new details about the controversial inquiry, including the disclosure that Williams allegedly asked an aide to obtain tickets to Universal Studios two days before he was sworn in as chief in 1992.

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That same aide, Officer Jerry Hallinger, said not only that he had obtained nearly two dozen complimentary admissions on that occasion, but also that he had called Universal Studios an average of about twice a year to obtain similar freebies for the chief and his family. Because Williams steadfastly denied soliciting or receiving free tickets, the commission was faced with contradictory accounts and a lack of documentation. As a result, the allegation was deemed “not resolved.”

Williams would not comment in detail Thursday. But his lawyer, Melanie Lomax, defended the chief and denounced the unauthorized release of the secret personnel records, saying it is part of “an ongoing outrage intended to discredit the chief.”

The Police Commission investigation of Williams erupted into public attention earlier this year and sparked one of the most heated political controversies of Mayor Richard Riordan’s Administration. While the public furor has diminished in recent weeks, questions about Williams’ candor continue to mar his relationship with the rank and file, strain his rapport with the mayor and dog his effectiveness as he tries to restore the LAPD’s tarnished image.

The file reflects the intensity of the feud between Williams and his commission bosses and dramatically illustrates their growing distrust of the chief over the course of the five-month investigation run by a former head of the Los Angeles FBI office.

By the time it was over, all five commissioners had concluded that Williams’ explanations “were inherently implausible” and that he had deliberately misled the board.

The file’s point-by-point recitation of Williams’ statements, written and oral, features the chief first denying the Las Vegas allegations outright, then blaming enemies, specifically the city’s police union, for leveling “politically inspired” charges against him.

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Official Reprimand

Interviewed under oath by the board in April, Williams said he thought the commission had only wanted information about potentially illegal or unethical behavior. According to documents contained in the file, Williams contended that he did not view the rooms as free because he and his wife had spent enough on slot machines to receive complimentary accommodations--a perk available to anyone, he argued.

But the commissioners did not accept his explanations, and in May concluded that Williams had lied to them. They voted to give him an official reprimand.

“Your responses to the board . . . were neither accurate nor forthright and were misleading,” the board concluded in its reprimand. Williams’ conduct, the commissioners said, violated sections of the Police Department manual “which require the highest standards of honesty and integrity of every officer, and particularly the chief of police.”

After reviewing the board’s work, Riordan upheld the reprimand leveled by the five commissioners he appointed. But the City Council, in a surprise move, overturned it without looking at the file in what it said was an effort to quell growing racial divisiveness over the matter.

That decision prompted two commissioners, President Enrique Hernandez Jr. and immediate past President Gary Greenebaum, to quit. They argued that their authority and the need for civilian control of the police chief had been undermined by the council.

Heightening the tension over the reprimand has been the chief’s anger over the release of documents related to what he considers a private matter between him and his bosses. On Thursday, Lomax said she had advised the chief to file a lawsuit seeking damages for the latest leak.

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Lomax also stressed that her client had cooperated with the commission’s inquiry. Far from misleading the board, she said, Williams had assisted its investigation.

“They didn’t have to subpoena anything,” Lomax said. “He gave them everything. . . . This is just ridiculous.”

A statement released on behalf of all five commissioners deplored the release of the documents but declined any other comment.

“The board is appalled and dismayed that anyone would breach the chief’s right to privacy by leaking confidential personnel information,” according to the statement, issued by Commission President Deirdre Hill and her four colleagues. “And it vigorously asserts that police commissioners had absolutely no involvement in or knowledge of any such activity.”

Greenebaum and Hernandez also declined to discuss the file beyond expressing their distress that documents had been obtained by The Times.

‘Comped’ in Las Vegas

At the heart of the commission’s decision to discipline Williams, according to the file, was the contradiction between the chief’s initial insistence that he had received no free accommodations and receipts that suggested otherwise.

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Publicly, Williams has portrayed his differences with the commission simply as a matter of semantics, a misunderstanding over his responses to the board’s inquiries. The file, though, seems to call that contention into question because of the specificity of the questions asked and Williams’ initial responses.

Asked by the commissioners, in a Jan. 3 memorandum, whether he had “accepted without cost lodging, meals and show tickets at Las Vegas hotels,” Williams’ response seemed clear.

“I have never accepted without cost lodging, meals and/or show tickets at any Las Vegas hotel,” Williams said in a Jan. 5 memo to the board. “Whenever I stayed in Las Vegas, I paid all bills due from my personal expenses.”

On Feb. 16, Williams, who by then had retained a lawyer, repeated that denial: “I have never accepted, nor solicited without cost, lodging, meals or show tickets at any Las Vegas hotel. My wife and I have made occasional recreational trips to Las Vegas and have always paid our own way, with exception of two occasions when we were in Las Vegas in connection with a law enforcement event.”

The documents also indicate that Williams orally denied the allegations on Jan. 3, when the commission first brought them to his attention.

But receipts from five stays at Caesars Palace show that Williams and his wife received complimentary services totaling $1,545.37 between 1992 and 1994. According to a “notice of proposed disciplinary action,” Williams promised to provide commissioners documentation proving that he had always paid for his accommodations. But he failed to do so for six weeks. It was only after news reports, the commission stated, that those documents were provided, prompting the board to accuse him of delaying the investigation.

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On Feb. 21, after turning over those documents that showed that he received “complimentary hotel rooms and other benefits,” Williams changed his defense, saying that he had only denied “soliciting” complimentary rooms, not “accepting” them.

“This statement was not true,” the commissioners wrote to Williams.

After months of back-and-forth, the commission met with Williams in a climactic confrontation on April 4. Williams’ lawyer and the board’s independent counsel were present, as was the commission’s investigator, former FBI Special Agent Lawrence G. Lawler. During the meeting, which lasted more than five hours, Williams was put under oath and asked to explain his “apparently false” statements.

The chief, according to the documents, defended his actions by saying he had done nothing “nefarious, wrong, evil, inappropriate or illegal.” Once again, he said he and his wife were comped because of his wife’s gambling. And, among other things, Williams insisted that had the commissioners been more precise in their questions, he would have been able to answer in a way that they would have considered more acceptable.

“I was never asked: ‘Did you ever have a room and not pay for it under any circumstances?’ ” Williams said at the April meeting, according to a transcript excerpt cited by the commission. “That would have required an entirely different type of response.”

Commissioners were incensed by that answer, calling his explanation “inherently implausible and not true. The board asked you whether you had accepted lodging ‘without cost.’ . . . Once you unequivocally denied accepting anything for free, there was no need for the board to inquire whether or not it was wrong to do so.”

Within six weeks after that crucial interrogation, the commission had voted to reprimand the chief, setting in motion the political firestorm that engulfed City Hall.

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Although the commission focused its inquiry on all five of the comped rooms for which it obtained receipts, the last of the free rooms in some ways is the most provocative. That trip was taken in October, 1994. The chief and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary, and the trip later came to public attention because a police officer was shot and killed in Hollywood while Williams was away.

Of particular interest to the commission about that trip, sources said, was a line at the bottom of a computer printout detailing the room charges, which notes that they were waived by “H. Gluck.”

Henry Gluck served as chief executive officer of Caesars World Inc. until a few months ago and at the time worked in Los Angeles, not Las Vegas. It is not clear from the file obtained by The Times whether the commission pursued Gluck’s role in providing Williams with the complimentary room.

In the end, according to the file, it was not Williams’ mere acceptance of complimentary rooms that caused the commission to discipline him. On that charge, he was “exonerated” because the commission concluded that anyone whose “slot play reached your wife’s level” might have qualified for hotel benefits.

Instead, it was Williams’ actions after the fact that got him into trouble.

“Your unequivocal denials that you had ever accepted anything for free, and your failure to fully disclose your acceptance of complimentaries, misled the board,” the commissioners informed Williams on May 16, after concluding their investigation. “The board was entitled to rely on the plain meaning of your unqualified denials. You therefore violated your duty to fully disclose all of the facts to the board in response to its inquiries. You did not provide the board with all of the facts until after persistent requests for information and pressure from the media.”

Allegations in Letter

Williams and his attorney have denied that he lied about the free accommodations and have said that the chief was fully cleared of any other wrongdoing.

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The commission files indicate, however, that it concluded one charge--that of misusing cellular phones--could not be sustained because the phone numbers had been cloned and used by others. In LAPD parlance, that charge was “not sustained,” a different category than “exonerated.”

Even more provocative was the commission’s investigation into another of the allegations, all of which were made by a retired deputy chief named Stephen Downing, who wrote to the board to inform its members of rumors he said were surrounding the chief.

In his letter, Downing said one allegation that had come to his attention was that Williams had solicited and received 23 free tickets to Universal Studios and had solicited other freebies as well.

As with the allegations about free accommodations, Williams denied that charge in his original, Jan. 5 response to the commission: “I have never solicited gratuities from individuals in the city. I have not solicited 23 tickets for use by my family or friends to Universal Studios tour.”

On March 14, 1995, two investigators working for the commission interviewed Officer Hallinger, who works as Williams’ security aide. According to a report of that interview, Hallinger said he regularly solicited free tickets from Universal for Williams.

The first instance occurred two days before Williams was sworn in as chief of police, according to Hallinger, who told the commission that the soon-to-be chief called him at home on a Sunday and asked him to arrange for several of Williams’ guests to visit Universal Studios.

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The theme park agreed, Hallinger told the commission, adding that he called Williams to set up the arrangements.

In a 13-page letter hand-delivered to Williams on April 25, the commission told him: “Hallinger also said that he had called Universal on other occasions to obtain complimentary tickets for you or your family, approximately twice a year.”

Universal does not keep complete records of free tickets, so the commission could not verify Hallinger’s account, that letter said.

“Although we have no knowledge of any motivation Hallinger would have to falsify his testimony, we regard the allegation as unproven,” the commissioners wrote.

During his April 4 interview by the commission, Williams told the board that he had never asked Hallinger to obtain tickets for him and denied that Hallinger had ever called him to make arrangements.

Lomax said Thursday that the commission’s inability to produce a single record supporting the allegation was evidence that it was false.

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“They have found no records from Universal which show Willie L. Williams getting any tickets,” she said, adding that the city’s Ethics Commission had cleared the chief of any wrongdoing.

As with the other allegations against Williams, his lawyer said they reflect a campaign to discredit the chief and have no basis in fact.

“With respect to the underlying issue, there is no question that the chief has been found innocent of any misuse of his office,” Lomax said. “The rest of this is the kind of petty stuff he faces every day of his life.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Willie Williams Paper Trail

In a Jan. 5, 1995, letter to police commissioners, Police Chief Willie L. Williams denies having accepted complimentary accommodations in Las Vegas.

“I have never accepted without cost lodging, meals and or show tickets at any Las Vegas Hotel. Whenever I stayed in Las Vegas I paid all bills due from personal expenses.”

However, copies of bills obtained by The Times show that he received free hotel rooms, phone calls and room service on five occasions from 1992 to 1994, including one stay over the New Year’s 1993 weekend shown in the bill below.

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The Police Commission reprimanded him on April 24, 1995, for making false statements about accepting “rooms and services valued by Caesars Palace in the total amount of $1,545.37.”

“A. Proposed Charges”

During the course of our recent investigation, you orally and in writing knowingly made false statements to the Board as to whether you and/or your wife had ever accepted, without cost, lodging or meals at any Las Vegas hotel, contending instead that you always paid all such charges with your personal funds. Your responses to the Board in this regard were neither accurate nor forthright, and were misleading.

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