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$6,000 Lost From Huntington Park Police Chief's Safe

February 01, 1987|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

HUNTINGTON PARK — Police Chief Geano Contessotto has disclosed that about $6,000 in cash is missing from a safe in his office. He also said that officers had repeatedly been paid bonuses based on falsified marksmanship records.

Contessotto made the statements in an extensive interview with The Times last month.

In subsequent interviews last week, Donald L. Jeffers, the city's chief administrative officer, and all five council members said they had been told of the missing cash. However, Jeffers and the council members learned from a reporter of the separate problem involving officers being paid bonuses under false pretenses. All said the chief had never told them of these payments.

"Now that the City Council has been made aware of it, we will investigate it and whoever is responsible will take the consequences," Mayor Herbert A. Hennes said.

Contessotto this week said his department is investigating the missing cash. He said the department also is reviewing department records to determine which officers benefitted from marksmanship scores that the chief said were "altered" and "manipulated" by his former secretary, who left the department in 1985.

The secretary, who now works in another city, confirmed in an interview that she altered the records. She said she did it "just a few" times at the request of officers who told her they had lost their scores or were within points of qualifying for bonuses.

In the interview, Contessotto repeatedly refused to say that his former secretary is a suspect in the department's separate investigation of the missing money.

Under its marksmanship regulations, the department requires that officers qualify on a shooting range each month. If they pass the test, officers are paid $25 each month. If they fail the test twice in one year, they are docked a day's pay, Contessotto said.

Contessotto said scores were altered numerous times during the secretary's tenure so that officers were paid for their marksmanship, even though they had not passed the test.

The department has since instituted a new policy of having a sergeant verify that officers have passed the test before any payment is made, Contessotto said.

After realizing that cash was missing, the city instituted new accounting procedures that include the daily logging of money received by the Police Department and a listing of employees who have access to the money. Prior to that, days had elapsed before city finance officials were informed of money received by the department, Jeffers said.

The city has paid between $500 and $1,000 to replace money that was confiscated from prisoners and later found to be missing from the chief's safe, Jeffers said.

"We have had some problems over there with missing monies," Jeffers said, adding that he is still not sure exactly how much money is missing. He said that this is the subject of an ongoing police investigation, and that "sometimes putting all the facts and evidence together and subpoeaning all the witnesses . . . takes some time."

Contessotto in the interviews last week would not say when he began the separate investigations of the missing cash and the improperly paid marksmanship bonuses.

Contessotto disclosed the missing money and falsified marksmanship scores in an extensive interview in early January for a story on a sex discrimination lawsuit against the chief and his department. The suit was filed by Victoria H. Kuhn, who was fired last year by Contessotto after she worked for 10 years as the department's only female officer.

During the interview, Contessotto sought to discredit his former secretary, Sharon Francis, who had testified in support of Kuhn in a city Civil Service Commission hearing in November.

At the Civil Service hearing, Francis testified that Contessotto is a sexist who frequently used gutter terms to describe Kuhn and other women. Contessotto has denied the charges.

Francis was the chief's secretary from 1983 until August, 1985, when she resigned to take a job in another city. After Francis left, Contessotto discovered that $6,000 was missing from his safe, he said. Contessotto declined to be more specific about when the discovery was made.

Secretary Not a Suspect

Contessotto said in the interview in early January that only he and Francis knew the combination to the safe in his office. During the interview, however, he repeatedly refused to say that Francis is a suspect in the department's investigation of the missing money. Francis denied any wrongdoing.

As part of the investigation into the missing cash, the department is looking into the loss of numerous bank deposit and personnel records that Contessotto said were under Francis' control.

The missing records cover six months' of monthly bank deposits made by police, Contessotto said. The missing personnel records list the people who sought jobs at the Huntington Park Casino and paid $25 to the police to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check, Contessotto said.

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