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Car Mix-Up a Headache for Mayor of Inglewood

April 13, 1989|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

On one point, Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent and the folks at Prince Pontiac agree: the whole thing is kind of strange.

Otherwise, they tell vastly different stories about an incident last Friday night that brought Hawthorne Police speeding to Prince Pontiac on Imperial Highway, where Vincent was attempting to gain admittance after-hours in search of misplaced money.

As a result, Vincent filed a criminal complaint with Hawthorne police accusing a security guard at the dealership of assault and battery. The complaint has been referred to the Hawthorne city attorney.

Officials at Prince say they are angry with the mayor, but say they have not decided whether to take legal action of their own.

Vincent says the security guard, Arthur Chamberland, hit him on the head with a flashlight when Vincent and a friend asked to be admitted to the dealership about 10 p.m. to look for money Vincent had left in a car involved in a mix-up with another car Vincent brought for repairs.

The guard and his employers say the 57-year-old Chamberland struck the 54-year-old mayor because the mayor and another man tried to muscle their way into the closed dealership. A door was slammed on Chamberland's hand in the scuffle, they say.

Vincent says he had left about $1,400 in a car at the dealership, money he had withdrawn from his credit union for car payments, along with two checks totaling about $836.

Officials at Prince say Vincent told them he was missing $5,000 and later said he had recovered $7,000, and would not explain what he was doing with that kind of cash.

The dispute and speculation in Inglewood about the amount of misplaced cash are publicity that Vincent says he can do without right now.

The mayor faces at least $10,000 in fines as the result of charges filed in March by the state attorney general's office. That agency and the state Fair Political Practices Commission are investigating his use and reporting of campaign funds for travel and car repair.

The mayor has not always been open to press inquiries about his finances. But he invited reporters to a meeting Tuesday to give his side of the dispute at the auto dealership and to talk about how public officials live in a fishbowl.

"It's incredible," Vincent said. "I get hit on the head, and they're saying I'm the one who did something wrong. It's big headlines."

Bob Allen, manager of Prince Pontiac, responded: "The guard did what he was supposed to do. They tried to force entry. . . . I don't care if it's the President of the United States, he's not allowed to come into the business at night. At that point, they both become citizens."

The story begins with the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Detroit Pistons last summer for the NBA championship.

Vincent won two weeks use of a Pontiac Grand Prix from the mayor of Pontiac, Mich., former home of the Pistons. Vincent liked the car so much that he bought it.

And last Friday morning, according to Vincent and Allen, Vincent's wife brought the Grand Prix to the dealership for service. Vincent arrived in his Cadillac about 3:30 p.m. with Roger Smith, his campaign treasurer and a fellow Los Angeles County probation officer. The mayor left the Cadillac for work on the air conditioning and left.

At this point, the stories of the antagonists diverge a bit.

Allen says Vincent walked back into the service area about 15 minutes later, got into a Grand Prix that resembled the car his wife had brought in and drove off without a word.

Vincent says that is inaccurate. He says he was told, "Your car's over there" by an employee, who indicated an almost identical car. The mayor mistook it for his own and drove off.

At this point, the stories diverge significantly.

Allen says Vincent returned about 7:15 p.m. when he realized that he had the ringer Grand Prix and exchanged it for his own. He returned in a state of agitation about 20 minutes later saying he was missing $5,000. Allen says he and the mayor searched the Cadillac, the mayor's Grand Prix and the ringer Grand Prix, and came up empty-handed.

Allen says he asked the mayor why he would leave so much cash in his car, but got no answer. The mayor left in his Cadillac, says Allen, after making it clear that he believed someone at the shop had taken the money and saying: "I'll never see that money again."

But the mayor categorically denies that any search of the three cars took place early in the evening with Allen. Vincent says he came back with the ringer Grand Prix in the early evening and exchanged it for his Cadillac. He moved his Grand Prix out front so he could pick it up later.

The mayor says he was not missing $5,000, but $1,400, which he had withdrawn from his credit union, along with the two checks from the city of Inglewood, which he had misplaced with his wallet.

The mayor says he realized the money was missing and contacted Smith, who accompanied him back to the dealership about 10 p.m.

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