Two more enter pleas in L.A. Coliseum corruption case

 

August 5, 2016 - Los Angeles Times - A former events manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum agreed Friday to serve six months in jail and pay $500,000 in restitution to the county under a plea bargain with prosecutors that closes a chapter in the longrunning corruption case.

Todd DeStefano who was accused of accepting bribes, embezzlement and other crimes — pleaded no contest to a felony conflict of interest charge in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

At the same hearing, rave promoter Reza Gerami pleaded to a misdemeanor count of the same charge. As part of his deal with prosecutors, Gerami will avoid serving any time in jail, be placed on probation and pay $30,000 to the county.

The Coliseum case grew out of a 2011 Los Angeles Times investigation, which found that DeStefano, a government employee, received large payments from Gerami and another concert promoter, Pasquale Rotella, while overseeing their raves at the historic stadium and the companion L.A. Sports Arena. Rotella pleaded to a single misdemeanor on Thursday, agreed to pay $150,000 to the county and was placed on probation.

The plea deal offers from prosecutors came a week after Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy scolded the district attorney’s office’s public integrity division for repeatedly mishandling evidence in the case. The unit’s assistant head deputy apologized to the judge, calling the blunder “very embarrassing.”

Kennedy told the lawyers on Friday that she was concerned that similar corruption at the Coliseum could happen again. Since the state, county and city are all involved in overseeing the taxpayerowned venue, no one is in charge, she said.

“The way it was set up … there’s no checks and balances,” Kennedy said. “I hope that something changes in the future and there isn’t another case like this. I’m very fearful that history will repeat itself.”

DeStefano’s attorney, Richard G. Hirsch, told The Times that his client had been hoping to avoid jail time but that “both sides gave up something here” in order to resolve the case.

“He’s at peace with himself,” Hirsch said.

DeStefano is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 23.

The Times began examining the relationship between DeStefano and the promoters after the drugrelated death of a 15yearold girl who attended an Electric Daisy Carnival rave at the Coliseum. That concert was staged by Rotella's firm, Insomniac Events.

Gerami's company, Go Ventures, also held raves at the Coliseum property.

Rotella and Gerami were eventually indicted on charges of bribing a public employee, and DeStefano was charged with accepting bribes and conflict of interest. All three were accused of embezzlement and conspiracy.

When the charges were filed, prosecutors called DeStefano an “inside man” for the rave promoters, helping them to overcome concerns about the raves being held there because of rampant drug use, overdose deaths and other safety problems.

Prosecutors said DeStefano was a “mole” who provided the rave promoters with inside information as they sought to convince Coliseum officials to keep raves at the venue after the teenager’s overdose death.

Under the alleged bribery and conspiracy scheme, prosecutors said, Gerami and Rotella made more than $1.8 million in illegal payments to DeStefano in exchange for low rates and continued access to the venue.

In court papers, prosecutors also accused DeStefano of embezzling at least $240,000 by tricking companies to make payments to his own “cleverly named company, ‘Los Angeles Coliseum Events,’” instead of to the government agency that managed the venue.

This week’s pleas leave only two defendants still facing charges in the case. Former Coliseum technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr. is still expected to go to trial. A former stadium contractor, Tony Estrada, is a fugitive.

Patrick Lynch, former Coliseum general manager, pleaded guilty to criminal conflict of interest in 2012 and received three years’ probation. He agreed to repay the county $385,000 he allegedly received in kickbacks from Estrada.