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Chat-Line Calls Traced to Sheriff’s Dept.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

While on duty, a sergeant in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department made hundreds of unauthorized telephone calls--some lasting more than 30 minutes to “party” and chat lines, according to copies of records obtained under the California Public Records Act.

Most of the calls were made from the sheriff’s internal affairs division--the branch that investigates misconduct by officers--where the sergeant, identified by sources as Steve Grosskopf, worked until he was promoted and transferred.

At one of the numbers the sergeant is alleged to have called frequently, a chat line service in Ibapah, Utah, a woman’s sultry voice greets callers, “Come on in and enjoy some of your free time with America’s hottest party crowd.”

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The calls to that service, and another in Jefferson, Iowa, appear on 15 pages of telephone records released last week.

The county declined to release another set of telephone records of unauthorized calls, citing a pending criminal investigation and possible prosecution.

Barbara L. Stocker, a deputy county counsel, refused to disclose other details about the calls, including how many were made or how much they cost taxpayers.

The calls were discovered in late 1994 or early 1995 by an administrator working in the sheriff’s professional standards division, an area shared by internal affairs and personnel.

The administrator saw the enormous volume of calls made from the administrator’s telephone extension and became worried that superiors might accuse the administrator of having made them, according to a colleague who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“[The administrator] dialed one of the numbers and listened to a menu of options,” the colleague said. “What [the administrator] heard was very clearly a sex-type phone service.”

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In a letter to The Times, Stocker wrote that phone records for calls made from the James A. Musick facility, where the sergeant was apparently transferred after leaving internal affairs, could not be released because that “would impede a criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sheila Hanson said she is examining a request by the sheriff’s department to prosecute the sergeant.

“I can tell that the sheriff’s department has done a criminal investigation and it’s been presented to me for review,” said Hanson, a prosector in the district attorney’s special-assignments section, which handles police and public corruption cases.

Hanson said she received the request in mid-April, about the time The Times asked the department to release the phone records.

Neither the department nor the county counsel identified the sergeant. But three sources identified him as Grosskopf.

Contacted at his San Bernardino County home last week, Grosskopf said, “I have no comment. You’ll have to speak to my attorney,” and hung up.

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Paul Meyer, the sergeant’s Costa Mesa lawyer, said he could not comment on the case.

The Sheriff’s Department said it would respond only to written questions. But after written questions were delivered, spokesman Lt. Hector Rivera said, “On the advice of county counsel, this is a personnel matter and we’re not allowed to talk about personnel matters.”

Even though Stocker said the county was reimbursed for some of the calls, that amount, too, does not have to be disclosed, she said.

“There’s nothing anywhere that requires an official to comment,” Stocker said.

County officials would not even release the sergeant’s salaries, standard information routinely released by government agencies throughout California.

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It’s not clear why such a large number of calls were not detected immediately.

Between August and November 1994, the sergeant allegedly made more than 350 calls to the party line in Utah and to another that was billed from Jefferson, Iowa. Several numbers in Iowa appear to be related. Those numbers, no longer in service, were apparently rented out by Seattle-based International Telecom, a telecommunications company.

Mark Farman, technical operations director, said his company leased the Iowa numbers, which were unused at the time, from another phone company and, in turn, rented them to the party line service the sergeant repeatedly called.

In fact, between 9:04 a.m. and 4:20 p.m. on Aug. 11, 1994, for example, he is alleged to have phoned the Iowa service 21 times, staying on the line from two to 25 minutes per call.

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The Iowa service shows up on an Internet site called Phone Losers of America Summer 96 Phone Directory and is described as an “underground party line.”

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Fred Voss, the county’s manager of information and technology, said unauthorized calls have not been a problem elsewhere in county government.

Phone calls to most commercial phone sex, dating or psychic hotlines, usually beginning with 900 or 976, are blocked on county telephone lines, Voss said.

But county employees intent on reaching such services need only find a number that begins with 800 or, as in this case, a standard long-distance prefix.

“We are aware you can do that,” Voss said. “And we can’t block that.”

Voss said the county’s managers are supposed to review the phone charges for their department each month. “We send all the detailed telephone bills to the departments, and the supervisors audit them.”

If an unauthorized call is detected, Voss said, it’s the responsibility of each supervisor “to take care of it.”

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The county, which spends about $19 million a year on communications, including $4.5 million to telephone companies such as Pacific Bell and GTE, has been able to block such calls since at least 1990, Voss said.

Virtually the only phones in county government from which an unblocked call can be made, Voss said, are in the sheriff’s department.

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