There has been an alarming increase in the incidence of hate literature placed in food packages, mailboxes and student lockers, authorities said Friday.
Three months after a Glendale man was enjoined from placing vitriolic flyers where unsuspecting consumers might find them, lawyers for the California Grocers Assn. and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith said there has been a threefold rise in flyers bearing the man's hot-line number.
Two unknown copycats appear to have joined in spreading the offensive messages as well, lawyers said.
The problem, which was originally confined to Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties and believed to be the work of one man, Allan Eric Carlson of Glendale, has spread to San Diego and Santa Barbara, according to the grocers' group and the ADL.
Carlson has denied that he has planted the flyers. He has been arrested twice on suspicion of related acts and was prohibited by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge from putting flyers in packages.
"It's getting to the point where it's hard to believe that one person is capable of being in so many places and able to reach so many products and so many mailboxes and so many school lockers in such a short period of time," said Tsivia Schwartz, an ADL attorney.
Hate flyers recently distributed in West Hollywood did not bear Carlson's signature cartoon drawings and hot-line number, Schwartz said.
In San Diego, said Schwartz, flyers have been distributed over the past couple of months that appear to be the work of a white supremacist who lives in that city.
Despite the offensive nature of the flyers, however, it's extremely difficult to prosecute the pamphleteers, according to law enforcement officials and the two organizations. Frustrated by the difficulty of using existing laws against those who place flyers in private property, City Councilman Joel Wachs has asked the city attorney to determine whether Los Angeles can develop an ordinance specifically forbidding the practice in grocery stores.
Meanwhile, a task force of representatives from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Sheriff's Department and the offices of the city attorney, the district attorney and the U.S. attorney has been grappling with ways to stop the activity under existing laws.
One possibility, said Grocers Assn. attorney Robert Kennedy, who also serves on the task force, is to use existing laws against trespass. Kennedy said pamphleteers are in effect trespassing on private property when they place flyers in a cereal box or other package owned by a grocery store.
But the trespassing laws do not apply to the store itself because it is a public place, said LAPD Capt. Dan Koenig, who oversees the department's criminal conspiracy section.
Schwartz said another possibility is to use laws against vandalism. But those require damage to the product, something difficult to prove in these cases, said Koenig.
Wachs, prompted by a call from a constituent who received a flyer in a box of Cheez-It crackers, also plans to lobby the state Legislature to outlaw the practice, said his aide, Greg Nelson.
"It's hard to believe that something could be so bad and yet no one can do anything about it," Wachs said in an interview Friday. "It's just a total loophole in the law."
Wachs said he would like the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would make it illegal to insert a foreign object of any kind after a package leaves the factory and before it is purchased by a consumer.
"It's so simple," Wachs said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out." Because breaking a city ordinance is only a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty would be $1,000 and six months to one year in jail.
More difficult, he said, would be figuring out a way to stop people from putting hate literature in mailboxes and on car windshields.
And indeed, according to the ADL, more flyers with Carlson's number on them show up in mailboxes--aimed at a group with large numbers in the particular neighborhood--than in grocery packages.