Internal Investigation Uncover Improprieties
CNS–An internal investigation into the taxpayer costs stemming from the Michael Jackson memorial tribute at Staples Center has uncovered possible criminal activity, the Los Angeles city attorney said today, although he did not say publicly who may have acted improperly.
Just as the City Council was beginning to discuss a series of motions related to the city’s handling of the Jackson tribute, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich told the council that his investigation had “taken an unanticipated turn that raises both civil and criminal aspects.”
“Ethical considerations and the need to protect the integrity of the investigation prevent me from discussing anything related to the criminal investigation,” he said. “I do not want to publicly discuss any matters that could potentially jeopardize the effectiveness of our ongoing investigation.”
The council then convened in closed session to discuss the issue. When the council returned to open session, members made no other comments about Trutanich’s remarks.
Trutanich did not publicly provide any other details of his investigation. He told the council, however, that he had spoken to an attorney who represents Staples Center and L.A. Live “and requested a number of investigatory items.”
Staples Center is owned by AEG, which sponsored the July 7 tribute. A spokesman for AEG could not be reached for immediate comment.
“In regards to the civil litigation, rest assured that before I file any lawsuit to recoup taxpayers’ costs, I will confer with you (the City Council) in closed session, to brief you and obtain your concurrence on any decision that is made,” Trutanich told the council.
Councilman Dennis Zine, who has been a vocal critic of using taxpayer dollars to fund any portion of the Jackson tribute, had asked Trutanich to investigate the planning of the event. The mayor’s office estimated the city incurred about $1.4 million in costs in the aftermath of Jackson’s death. Zine said he believes the actual cost is $3.9 million.
Trutanich told the council earlier this month that he was “investigating how this whole phenomenon occurred,” saying he wanted to make sure city officials followed proper procedures in authorizing city expenses for the event.
“My job is to protect the treasury and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Trutanich said earlier this month. “We’re in extremely tough budget times and protocols need to be put in place so we won’t be caught in this lurch again in the future.”
The council was scheduled today to discuss five motions pertaining to city expenses stemming from the King of Pop’s June 25 death and ensuing memorial tribute. But after meeting with Trutanich in closed session, the council voted to consolidate four of the five motions and then delayed any discussion of the matters for 60 days.
The four motions that were consolidated were:
— a pair of motions by Zine and Councilwoman Jan Perry calling for an accounting of “city resources used and expenditures made in response to the public reaction to the passing of Michael Jackson.” They also want to explore ways to offset those costs.
— a motion by Councilwoman Janice Hahn seeking to compare the city’s expenses with the revenue collected by the city as a result of the tourism boom that followed the entertainer’s death. She noted that airlines and downtown hotels experienced a surge in business as fans from throughout the world flocked to Los Angeles to grieve for their idol and celebrate his legacy.
— a motion by Councilman Tom LaBonge calling for the establishment of a process to justify the use of city funds and resources to provide for public safety at significant events like sports team parades, memorial events, presidential visits and award ceremonies. It also directs various city agencies to develop a collaborative planning process that is transparent and fiscally prudent.
The city’s chief legislative analyst and chief administrative officer are expected to provide a single report on the motions in 60 days.
Meanwhile, the chief legislative analyst and city controller are expected to report back–also in 60 days–on a motion by Zine calling for a review of the city’s process for selecting vendors. The request was made after City Controller Wendy Greuel raised questions about the purchase of 3,500 box lunches for police officers deployed to the Staples Center ceremony, claiming the food could have been purchased at a lower cost from a local vendor, instead of one 80 miles away.
Zine has demanded that AEG cover all the costs of the Jackson ceremony, but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has rejected that suggestion.
“I’ve made it very clear: We’re a world-class city and we will provide police protection in the city because it’s our responsibility,” he said.