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Unusual Deal Allows Shop Owner to Plead Guilty to Stay in Business

February 21, 1991|LORI GRANGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To save his business, Glendale nostalgia shop owner Bo Jaworsky has pleaded guilty to a crime he didn't commit.

The judge and the prosecutor know he didn't do it. So does his defense attorney.

And Jaworsky himself admitted that he didn't understand exactly what he was pleading guilty to.

It was, all parties agreed, an unusual case in which the crime was made to fit the punishment. And it was a punishment with a little something for everyone.

As part of a deal arranged Feb. 5 in Glendale Municipal Court, Jaworsky, who was accused last year of attempting to buy stolen merchandise, will be allowed to renew his permit to sell second-hand record albums, baseball cards and comic books.

Police will be allowed to conduct surprise weekly inspections of the store, Collectors Camelot, at 200 E. Broadway. And the court will be spared a costly and time-consuming trial.

To accomplish this, Judge Barbara Burke, Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Miller and defense attorney Mike Shannon allowed Jaworsky to plead guilty to the obscure infraction of illegally selling merchandise out of a car on a public street--a charge normally reserved for street vendors.

"Our theory would be that Mr. Jaworsky was conducting business improperly in a number of respects," Miller said. "We reached an agreement over punishment. . . . Then it was a question over what label you could put on it."

Jaworsky, a 44-year-old La Crescenta resident, was charged last spring with two misdemeanor counts of attempting to buy stolen Nintendo games from an undercover Glendale police officer. Investigator Steve Carey said he set up the "sting" at Collectors Camelot after an unnamed informant said Jaworsky was dealing in stolen property.

But police did not consider Jaworsky a criminal mastermind. A trial or jail sentence wasn't what they were after. They simply wanted to be able to supervise Jaworsky's store to keep an eye on his second-hand sales, Carey said in a recent interview.

Jaworsky vigorously denied the charges. But, he said, he wanted to avoid a costly trial and, above all, be allowed to renew his sales permit for second-hand goods. Police and city administrators had refused to renew the permit after the misdemeanor charges were filed.

So the shop owner told his attorney that he would plead guilty to an infraction, which carries a fine but no probation, if the city would renew his permit.

Miller, Shannon and Carey set out to find a crime that would satisfy everyone involved.

The parties to the case all agreed this generally was how the settlement was reached:

Jaworsky's case was set for a jury trial on Feb. 5. But when Burke called the case, Miller offered a plea bargain. He would prosecute Jaworsky on a lesser charge of failing to properly document used goods that he bought to sell in his store.

Shannon actually had proposed that plea bargain shortly after his client was charged, but prosecutors turned down the offer. This time, it failed on a technicality. Burke pointed out the charge was a misdemeanor, not an infraction.

(Miller later attributed the confusion to recent amendments in the law that changed the severity of certain crimes.)

During the lunch hour that day, Miller contacted Carey at the Glendale police station and asked if Carey knew of an infraction that could be used. Carey suggested a Glendale Municipal Code ordinance regulating the amount of time a used-goods dealer must wait before offering used merchandise for resale.

That, too, the attorneys learned when they returned to the courtroom that afternoon, could be prosecuted only as a misdemeanor. Burke then suggested the street-vending infraction. It had emerged several weeks ago in a few cases she had tried, and she thought it would work for Jaworsky.

That law, part of the Glendale Municipal Code, makes it illegal to sell merchandise out of a vehicle at one location on a public street for more than 15 minutes in a three-hour period.

The attorneys agreed, and Jaworsky pleaded guilty to the infraction. In exchange for his payment of $637.50 in penalties and fees and an agreement to allow police to conduct weekly inspections of his store, Jaworsky was assured his second-hand sales permit would be renewed.

He is filing a new application with the city, he said last week.

"They actually had to do some homework there on the spot, which was one of the most peculiar things I've ever seen," Jaworsky said, describing the courtroom proceedings. "It was almost humorous."

When asked to describe the crime of which he was convicted, Jaworsky said: "I think it has to do with being in a parking space more than 15 minutes. I think it was equivalent to a traffic citation."

Miller, Shannon and Carey conceded the outcome of Jaworsky's case was unusual.

"We picked out a compromise provision that I don't think anyone would say that Bo did," Shannon said. "It does involve a vendor, and Bo is a vendor . . . other than that, I guess it really isn't related."

"You have a businessman who committed an infraction of a business regulation," Carey said.

Burke said such compromising is allowable and fairly common during plea-bargaining, particularly when the charges are minor.

"There isn't any requirement in the law that the charge which is plea-bargained down to necessarily has to fit the facts of the case," she said. "It's basically a case settlement procedure on which both sides can agree that a lesser charge would be appropriate under the circumstances."

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