Federal prosecutor joins LAPD probe into handling of Les Moonves sex assault allegations
A federal corruption prosecutor has joined the LAPD investigation into allegations that the department mishandled a sexual assault complaint against former CBS executive Leslie Moonves, Los Angeles police told The Times.
It is the latest revelation after a stunning report by New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James revealed that former Cmdr. Cory Palka and perhaps others in the Los Angeles Police Department worked to keep a lid on explosive allegations against Moonves at a time when top media and film figures were being ousted by #MeToo accusations.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore launched an investigation in November after it was disclosed that Palka tipped off CBS executives about a confidential complaint made in 2017 by a former employee involving two alleged incidents with Moonves in the 1980s.
Palka — then captain of the LAPD’s Hollywood station who moonlighted as a CBS executive bodyguard — worked closely with the broadcasting company to contain the allegations, though the accusations were too old to prosecute.
After meeting with the family of Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, who filed the sex assault complaints, and issuing a personal apology, Moore said the LAPD would conduct an internal investigation and work with the L.A. County district attorney and state attorney general. The department has since revealed its “investigators are working with the United States Attorney General.”
LAPD cover-up of claims against ex-CBS boss Moonves highlights challenges for abuse victims
Five years after the #MeToo movement took off, women still face obstacles when they seek to bring complaints of misconduct against powerful figures.
Mack Jenkins, head of the criminal division that includes the corruption unit for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, is working with the department, LAPD Capt. Kelly Muniz said. Jenkins has secured convictions against the likes of former L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, state politicians and brothers Ron and Tom Calderon, and U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).
Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office, said the agency will not comment on the matter.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón previously said his office will review any potential criminal charges against Palka and others involved in the case.
Palka did not respond to requests for comment. He retired from the department in early 2021 after a 34-year career.
Palka’s role in the Moonves case has some observers likening the cover-up to a scene from “L.A. Confidential, the James Ellroy novel about corrupt cops that inspired the 1997 Kevin Spacey movie. Records show that Palka worked for CBS at the Grammys from 2008 to 2014.
Any local charges would probably hinge on whether Palka’s actions amounted to a conspiracy to tamper with evidence or commit a crime, an offense that’s limited to three years from the last alleged act and therefore may be too old to prosecute.
Moore has said the department did not know of Palka’s involvement until November, when the New York attorney general’s report was released.
The report was five years after Golden-Gottlieb, then 81, walked into the Hollywood station to report that Moonves had sexually assaulted her in the mid-1980s. She was inspired by the #MeToo movement, which reached a peak in the fall of 2017 after the New York Times and New Yorker magazine published accounts of abuse by former film producer Harvey Weinstein. CBS morning news anchor Charlie Rose had just been fired after eight women who worked at his PBS talk show said he had groped them, exposed himself or spoke to them inappropriately.
Golden-Gottlieb, who died in July 2022 at the age of 86, told The Times in 2018 about her encounters with Moonves. She told police that in July 1986, Moonves forced her to perform oral sex on him in his car. Another time, he appeared naked below the waist in an office with her and, the next day, slammed her against an office wall, she said.
A watch commander at the Hollywood station told Palka about the allegations the same day, a person familiar with the situation told The Times.
That night, Palka left a voicemail for Ian Metrose — his contact at CBS, who was the network’s senior vice president for talent relations. The following day, after being directed by his boss, Metrose asked Palka for a copy of the confidential complaint. Palka sent an unredacted version that contained Golden-Gottlieb’s name, address and other identifying information, the New York attorney general’s report said.
Moonves was so concerned that he sought to meet Palka in person.
“Would [he] meet me for a cup of coffee?” Moonves asked Metrose, according to the report, which outlined a $30.5-million settlement reached by CBS’ parent company, Paramount Global, to resolve the sexual assault claims. “It is uncomfortable, I understand. I just want clarity,” Moonves added. “I will meet him today near where he lives.”
Palka, Moonves and Metrose met at a restaurant and vineyard in Westlake Village, near the then-captain’s home.
The actions of former Cmdr. Cory Palka, a 34-year veteran of the LAPD who mingled with celebrities, are under scrutiny.
Palka promised to keep Moonves apprised of Golden-Gottlieb’s interactions with the LAPD and the district attorney’s office. He then worked to keep the woman quiet, according to the attorney general’s report, even telling Moonves’ attorney, Blair Berk, and Metrose that the detective investigating the allegations would “admonish the accuser tomorrow about refraining from going to the media and maintaining ‘her’ confidentiality ... and honoring the integrity of the investigation.”
According to the report, Palka worked with an unnamed person in the elite Robbery-Homicide Division who was handling the case to ensure Golden-Gottlieb didn’t go public with her accusations. Palka told the CBS team he reached out to his LAPD contact and made sure Moonves’ lawyer was “the first and only point of contact.”
Golden-Gottlieb’s claims did not become public until July 2018 after six other women alleged sexual misconduct in a New Yorker story. The case had been rejected by the office of then-Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey in February that year. The Times obtained a redacted copy of the declination to pursue charges that protected her identity, and for first time time revealed the sexual assault investigation by the LAPD.
She then spoke to the New Yorker detailing her account along with several other women, and Moonves became the first public media company head ousted during the #MeToo movement. He told CBS his acts with Golden-Gottlieb were consensual.
In November last year, LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division Det. Oscar Gamino presented an investigation of the 2017 case to the district attorney’s office.
“Out of an abundance of caution, I asked DB/RHD [Detective Bureau/Robbery-Homicide Division] to discuss the case file with L.A. D.A. for any feedback,” Moore told The Times. “They concur with the original declination.”
Gamino also appeared at the district attorney’s office last month, a day after a Times reporter sent him a series of questions about whether he discussed the case with Palka.
In a reply, Gamino wrote to The Times: “The case is being reviewed by Internal Affairs Detectives, and I’m not at liberty to discuss the matter.”
The Los Angeles Police Commission has asked its independent watchdog to oversee the investigation. LAPD Inspector General Mark Smith told the civilian police commission that he would examine the “department’s practices” for handling sexual misconduct cases and take a close look at its guidelines for off-duty bodyguard work by officers.
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