In our continuing series focusing on the Trutanich Scandals, we turn our attention this week to the efforts the former ambulance chaser plaintiff’s attorney turned career politician has used to get his name into the press.
It didn’t take long for LA’s newly elected City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, to establish himself as a grandstander of the first order. Despite earlier assurances that he was committed to staying out of the limelight, that he did not “want to see my name in the press,” barely days into office the media-needy Trutanich was desperately seeking headlines over the death of Michael Jackson.
Trutanich was sworn into office on July 1, 2009, six days after Jackson’s death and amid world wide media attention. On July 7, that attention focused on downtown Los Angeles, shut down for a memorial service at the Staples Center. Trutanich made his move to gain a piece of the action. While the real story was the cause of Jackson’s death, Trutanich must have seen an opportunity for a side show that would boost his profile; an investigation into the costs of the memorial service.
Although such an investigation would more properly be the domain of the newly elected City Controller, Wendy Greuel, Trutanich was already planning to renege on a promise he made to her (and the former Controller, Laura Chick), over an investigation of the City Attorney’s Office. Trutanich perhaps felt he could take the sting out of what many saw as the first of his many lies, by marginalizing the Controller’s Office with his own, crass and ill-conceived ‘criminal aspects’ investigation into the costs of the memorial.
So it was that on July 21, 2009, two weeks after the memorial service, Trutanich called a special meeting of the Los Angeles City Council to announce the results of his two-week ‘investigation.’ Trutanich’s investigation was apparently complete. At least complete enough for him to ‘go public.’ He had cracked the case, solved the mystery, and was going to show what a powerful and effective force he was going to be in Los Angeles.
While the world watched as Trutanich stumbled his way through a prepared speech, he left little doubt that AEG, the operators of the Staples Center and LA Live, were the targets of his witch-hunt ‘investigation.’
After forgetting the correct title for Councilmember Dennis Zine, Trutanich stated that “The City Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigations is continuing to actively review the events leading up to the events held at the Staples Center and at LA Live venues downtown. My investigators have already interviewed numerous witnesses and gathered significant evidence. We are still collecting information and developing a time-line of events and we are identifying the key players involved. To that extent I invite other, others to also come forward and to provide additional information and documents relating to this matter, by contacting our office.”
Pausing, perhaps for effect, with a wry smile, Trutanich then dropped the bombshell.
“Our investigation has taken an unanticipated turn that raises both civil and criminal aspects,” Trutanich said to a stunned audience. Criminal aspects were the words Trutanich used to say, without saying, that a crime or crimes had occurred.
Trutanich, citing “ethical considerations” and the need to “preserve the integrity of the investigation,” refused to provide any details of the so-called ‘criminal aspects.’ “I do not want to publicly discus any matters that could potentially jeopardize the effectiveness of our ongoing investigation,” Trutanich read from his statement.
Trutanich’s use of a weighty, slow and deliberate delivery, mixed with innuendo and allusion to matters that ‘must remain secret’ pending his ‘investigation’ were sufficient to convince most viewers that Trutanich had substantial evidence necessary to prosecute a criminal case. It was a style, however, that some may have remembered from a dark time in American history, perhaps best forgotten; the McCarthy era.
Fifty-five years after Sen. Joseph McCarthy used innuendo, rumor and half-truths in the court of public opinion to promote himself, it certainly must appeared to some that Trutanich was using those very same techniques to promote his political career.
Some question Trutanich’s evidence
While the City Council, the media and the court of public opinion seemed all too ready to accept Trutanich’s statements as gospel, some perhaps remembered a time long past, when McCarthy grabbed the headlines on a daily basis with nothing but rumor and innuendo.
Could it be that Trutanich was doing the same thing? Could it be that Trutanich’s ‘so-called Bureau of Investigations’ (which basically existed in name only), had no real evidence of any crime? Was Trutanich just operating on a ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ theory of guilt? Certainly, as long as Trutanich was able to refuse to comment on so-called ‘ethical’ grounds as to the status of his investigation, Trutanich could give the impression that he had more than goose eggs.
The Los Angeles Daily News smells a rat
One reporter at least, wasn’t buying what Trutanich was selling. Rick Orlov at the Los Angeles Daily News has the gravitas and experience to smell a rat. He was not prepared to accept Trutanich’s allegations at face value. Orlov stated that “Trutanich’s vague comments about the Jackson inquiry puzzled observers, and criminologists and defense attorneys struggled to see the possibilities of a criminal case.”
There’s no evidence of any crime
Orlov tracked down prominent criminal defense attorney James E. Blatt Esq., who told the Daily News that “I don’t see any criminal liability with AEG.” Orlov also sought an opinion from Lewis Yablonsky, an emeritus professor in criminology at California State University, Northridge. Yablonsky concurred, saying “To me, it’s kind of a fiasco,” “but I don’t see anything criminal about it.”
Despite Orlov, Blatt and Yablonsky’s doubts, Trutanich continued to maintain that his investigation had uncovered some kind of smoking gun, some dark and dirty dealings that had criminally cost the City millions of dollars, perhaps as much as six million dollars.
Trutanich managed to dodge and deflect questions about his witch-hunt investigation for almost a year. By then, perhaps, the City Council had realized that Trutanich had nothing. There had been no criminal case filed by Trutanich, who has a one-year statute of limitations to file a misdemeanor case. Equally, Trutanich’s ‘buddy’ and former supporter, District Attorney Steve Cooley, apparently had not filed a felony case arising from Trutanich’s elusive ‘criminal aspects’ investigation.
District Attorney’s Office likely rejected the case
Although it is not known whether Trutanich in fact referred the case to his then ally Cooley for the filing of a felony case, Trutanich frequently boasted about ‘walking cases over to his friend Steve Cooley.’ Indeed, he is believed to have threatened to do just that when he threatened to arrest Councilmember Jan Perry over a different matter also concerning AEG.
Whether Trutanich did indeed present the ‘criminal aspects’ case to Cooley and subsequently received a sound rejection or ‘declination’ is a matter that will likely remain cloaked in secrecy. However, given the way Trutanich used to brag about his relationship with the District Attorney, that is, in all probability, what occurred.
Trutanich moves for a Grand Jury investigation
Stuck with an ‘investigation’ that likely had all the ‘criminal aspects’ of a dead sheep (and stank as much) Trutanich started lobbying for a Grand Jury. Grand Jury proceedings, could, perhaps, keep the ‘criminal aspects’ allegation on life support for long enough for Trutanich to find a way out of the mess he appeared to have gotten himself into. It was a move straight out of the McCarthy playbook providing more innuendo, rumor, speculation and feeding what had become apparent to an increasing number of observers; an overwhelming need for self-aggrandizement.
In what many regard as a rare moment of decisiveness on the part of the City Council, Trutanich’s plans for a Grand Jury were soundly rejected. An attempt to end-run the City Council by using a State Assembly Bill moved by Trutanich’s political ally Gil ‘One Bill’ Cedillo was similarly killed off.
Trutanich’s BS finally hits the fan
Trutanich was likely forced to drop his ‘criminal aspects’ fiasco as it became increasingly apparent that he was firing blanks. AEG, for their part, had waited patiently for Trutanich to either file the threatened criminal case, or have the humility to apologize for his rash, foolish and seemingly unfounded allegations.
But Trutanich was apparently both unable to file a criminal case or have the decency to apologize for his poor judgment. So it was that on June 18, 2010, the LA Times reported that Councilmembers Dennis Zine and Jan Perry stepped in to bring some closure to what had become a major embarrassment to the City.
AEG and Michael Jackson’s estate would make a $1.3M donation towards the costs the City incurred in ensuring public safety at the Michael Jackson memorial. As Orlov at the Daily News also reported, there was no announcement or explanation from Trutanich. No press release, no photo op, no media gathering, and of course no apology.
Trutanich also accepts ‘donation’ from AEG
In what was, perhaps, a surprising, if not shocking, post script to what some might think was Trutanich’s crass and foolish attempt to grandstand and play to the media with an empty hand, Trutanich also accepted a ‘donation’ from AEG. It was not, however, a donation towards the unknown costs of his year-long ‘criminal aspects’ investigation.
The gift Trutanich accepted was rather more of a personal nature; a bunch of tickets to a Lady Gaga concert at AEG’s LA Live Nokia Theater. Under City Ethics Commission rules, Trutanich was forced to report the gift to his Officeholder Committee, and probably hoped it would go unnoticed months after his investigation disappeared without a trace.
Trutanich’s BS continues
Despite having no comment on June 18, 2010 when his ‘criminal aspects’ investigation was finally seen for the “bully tactics” AEG’s CEO Tim Leiweke had called it, Trutanich nevertheless appears to be trying to re-invent history.
Buried in a March 23, 2011 budget briefing report, Trutanich claims that his office was involved in negotiating a $1M donation to the City’s General Fund from AEG. He does not mention the Lady Gaga tickets, but he might as well, both statements are equally laughable.
That anyone with any shred of common sense would believe that Trutanich, who has never been shy of the media, would have missed out on the June 18, 2010 opportunity to claim credit for the settlement with AEG, perhaps just shows how little regard Trutanich has for the common sense of the public. Both LA’s leading newspapers covered the settlement, and Trutanich had no comment. Yet nine months later, there he is silently sneaking his claim to fame in a document that might have better use in the bathroom.
Trutanich appears to rely on that old political ploy, “Are you going to believe me, or would you rather believe your own lying eyes?” Perhaps he believes that voters have short memories and lack the capacity to connect the dots. But Trutanich’s history of threats, accusations, misleading statements, innuendo and outright lies are too well documented.
This is the second installment in our Trutanich Scandals series. Thankfully, there is no shortage of material for our next installment.