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74-year-old tagger pleads no contest to misdemeanor vandalism

A 74-year-old man dubbed the oldest vandalism suspect ever arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — after authorities said he put “slap tags” in Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses — pleaded no contest Thursday to misdemeanor vandalism.

John Scott appeared in a downtown courtroom wearing a nylon Nike sweat suit and black loafers and carrying a vinyl Samsonite briefcase bearing his trademark orange and black bumper sticker that asks “Who is John Scott?”

Flanked by his lawyer, Blair Berk, whose clients have included Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson, Scott agreed to the plea before L.A. County Superior Court Judge Craig S. Mitchell. He was placed on three years’ probation and ordered to pay a fine of $1,680 and perform community service, including taking a computer class for seniors and volunteering at the Red Cross.

Scott said he came up with the idea to print bumper stickers as a marketing tool while in Hawaii selling fumigation and pest-control products. He continued those marketing efforts in Los Angeles, where last year he ran afoul of the law.

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Deputies assigned to the “special problems unit” of the sheriff’s transit bureau began pursuing a man described as an “older” vandal who had been placing orange and black “Who Is John Scott?” stickers on buses in Baldwin Hills and areas on the Westside.

The stickers were placed on plastic pamphlet holders on the buses. After further investigation, deputies found Scott had created a website selling the mystery of his identity as well as T-shirts, baseball caps and the slap tags.

“Who am I? John Scott — world traveler, entrepreneur, producer, but, above all, mystery — an ordinary man with an extraordinary idea of himself,” read a description above a picture of a man dressed in black, his face hidden and a question mark over it. “A real person with a real history, he is also you and me, the face in the window, the voice on the bus.”

Scott was arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism in November when a sheriff’s deputy recognized him at the Metro Center downtown transit hub.

Earlier this year, Scott and Berk, who was working pro bono, went to MTA headquarters to hear risk-management officials tally the damage to the buses. Transit officials said Scott’s stickers caused thousands of dollars in damage, but one employee whose job it is to clean the buses gave a far lower figure for damage from the alleged misconduct.

“They sort of jacked up the damages,” Scott said of the disparity, describing the setting at MTA headquarters as “like the Louvre in Paris.”

On Thursday, Scott said he was pleased by the outcome in court and plans to expand his website while looking for creative but “legit” ways to advertise.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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