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Studio exec investigated for copter use during Dorner manhunt

A Hollywood studio head is under criminal investigation for possibly impeding the manhunt for ex-Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner by landing his helicopter on a sheriff’s helipad during the search, sources said.

Relativity Media’s Ryan Kavanaugh has been known for taking a chopper to the office and appointments around town. The noisy landings have drawn complaints from some nearby residents.

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But the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s criminal investigation is a new level of scrutiny. It’s unclear what exactly Kavanaugh is suspected of doing wrong and how he might have slowed authorities down.

Kavanaugh’s camp says that he did not impede the cops and that the probe is politically motivated.

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Law enforcement agencies from around the region — including the Sheriff’s Department — pitched in during the February manhunt for Dorner, who was accused of killing four people, including two law enforcement officers. The search drained significant law enforcement resources, as authorities scrambled to end the rampage before anyone else was harmed.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed there is a criminal investigation but declined to provide details because the probe is ongoing.

Kavanaugh’s defenders said the criminal investigation is bogus, calling it political payback by Sheriff Lee Baca because Kavanaugh is supporting another potential candidate for sheriff in next year’s election: Baca’s outgoing top aide Paul Tanaka.

“This is another predictably sad and desperate attempt to distract the people of Los Angeles County from an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the sheriff’s unlawful treatment of minorities,” said Relativity spokesman David Shane. “It’s disappointing that the sheriff continues to waste taxpayer resources to pursue his own politically motivated vendetta.”

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Shane added that the district attorney’s office looked at Kavanaugh’s landing during the Dorner case earlier this year and chose not to file any charges.

A source close to Kavanaugh said the producer is a Sheriff’s Department volunteer and was landing near sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park for an appointment with Tanaka. The source said that the hunt for Dorner was beginning around that time and that Kavanaugh did not know about it until he was taking off and leaving. Kavanaugh, the source said, in no way impeded any law-enforcement action.

In the past, the department was supportive of Kavanaugh’s chopper rides. In 2011, he came under heat from residents around the West Hollywood neighborhood where he often landed. That prompted a skirmish between the hotel that was letting him use its helipad and the California Department of Transportation, which issues relevant permits. An official there sent a terse letter to hotel management ordering that any illegal helicopter activity cease immediately.

In that spat, sheriff’s brass appeared to come to Kavanaugh’s defense, with a top official writing a letter to the Sofitel hotel to say the department did not oppose Kavanaugh’s use of the hotel’s helipad.

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Baca was known at the time to have a close relationship with Kavanaugh, who has raised more than $156,000 for the Sheriff’s Youth Fund, according to a department spokesman. In 2008, the department gave him an award for his work on behalf of the charity.

That relationship, however, turned sour recently after the producer declined to support Baca’s 2014 reelection bid.

In June, an attorney for Kavanaugh sent a letter to Baca accusing the sheriff of “abusing your elected position by using Sheriff’s Department resources to target and investigate him for no legitimate reason. Mr. Kavanaugh also has reason to believe that this misconduct is in retaliation for his support of your political opponent in next year’s race…. Be assured that Mr. Kavanaugh will not be intimidated.”

Though Tanaka, who was forced by Baca to step down, has said he is considering a run, he has not officially announced one way or another.

Baca has been accused of launching criminal investigations on behalf of supporters and using his power to settle political scores before. His spokesman denied the allegations from Kavanaugh’s camp, saying “this criminal investigation has nothing to do with politics.”

robert.faturechi@latimes.com


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