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Inquiry Launched Into Police Chief's Purchase of Car : Torrance: For the second time, Donald E. Nash is suspected of underpaying sales tax on a used car, this one a 1957 Ford Thunderbird.

May 02, 1991|DEBORAH SCHOCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the Torrance city manager are reviewing reports that Torrance Police Chief Donald E. Nash understated the sale price of a pink 1957 Ford Thunderbird that he bought two years ago.

A San Diego County woman says she sold the car to Nash for $11,000 in April, 1989, but a hand-written price of $1,100 appears on copies of two documents obtained from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

DMV records show that Nash and his wife paid $71 in sales tax for the car, plus a 10% late penalty. Sales tax for an $11,000 car would be $715. A DMV spokesman said Wednesday that he did not know whether Nash has since paid any further taxes on the vehicle.

Nash, through a spokesman, declined all comment.

The inquiries come less than two months after the district attorney's office announced it was closing its investigation of the sales tax Nash paid when he bought another used car in 1988.

District attorney's spokesmen said in March that Nash understated the price of a 1987 Jaguar XJ6 by $8,050.63, thus underpaying sales tax by $523.29, but that it was unclear wether he did so deliberately. Nash, who has said the underpayment was unintentional, paid the back tax, interest and a penalty this winter after being questioned about the error.

A spokesman said the district attorney's office on Monday received the results of a state Department of Motor Vehicles investigation of the sales tax paid on Nash's 1957 Thunderbird.

The district attorney is studying whether Nash violated any criminal statutes in reporting the sale price of the car, said Reid Rose, a deputy district attorney in the special investigations unit, which handles inquiries involving public officials.

Jerry Galbreath, metropolitan Los Angeles area commander for the DMV Bureau of Investigations, would not disclose the results of the DMV investigation.

A sale price of $1,100 is hand-written on two separate documents--the Thunderbird's bill of sale and the ownership certificate--according to copies obtained from DMV files.

But the San Diego County woman who says she sold Nash her pink "T-Bird" in April, 1989, said that he actually paid her $11,000 for the car. She says she signed the bill of sale but left the rest of the form blank at Nash's request.

"He said, 'That's OK, I'll take care of it,' " said Ida M. Pompa, 69, of San Marcos.

Pompa said Nash has telephoned her "at least half a dozen times" in the last four or five months, asking her if anyone had contacted her about him and the Thunderbird.

"Then he'd say to call him first, before I talked to them, to call him and let him know," Pompa said.

After 21 years as chief, Nash, 66, announced Feb. 1 that he plans to retire in February, 1992. Two weeks later, the Torrance City Council unanimously voted to boost his base pay by 15%, increasing his impending annual pension from $89,000 to $99,870.

On March 8, the district attorney's office disclosed that it had been investigating the Jaguar sales tax but had decided not to prosecute.

Several council members defended Nash but said he had exercised poor judgment in underpay ing sales tax on the Jaguar.

City Manager LeRoy Jackson said at the time that he had conducted his own inquiry into the Jaguar transaction. Jackson said he disciplined the chief after finding he had used "poor judgment," but he declined to specify what action was taken.

News of the second reported sales-tax discrepancy this week caught Torrance council members by surprise.

"It's very difficult when something like this occurs when it involves someone you had a great deal of trust in," Mayor Katy Geissert said.

Several Torrance City Council members said Nash telephoned them Monday, the same day that an article raising questions about Nash's purchase of the Thunderbird appeared in the Torrance-based newspaper, the Daily Breeze.

Councilman George Nakano, who heard from Nash, said he was "very apologetic. He regretted that this may have embarrassed the city and the City Council."

Councilman Dan Walker, who staunchly defended the chief's record, said Nash "indicated he made a mistake. . . . He says it wasn't deliberate, and I take him at his word."

Councilman Timothy Mock said that when Nash called him, "I asked him if there was anything else, and he said this was the end of it."

Mock said Nash told him that he had made a mistake but had paid the back tax.

At the DMV, Galbreath said Wednesday that he is still awaiting confirmation from the state Board of Equalization that Nash has paid all taxes on the car.

City Manager Jackson said Wednesday he would take appropriate action, depending on results of the current inquiries.

A section of the Torrance Municipal Code provides that if a city employee is accused of "a crime, misconduct, incompetency, inefficiency or failure to observe the rules and regulations" of the city, the employee can be reassigned or relieved of duty with pay, "pending investigation of such accusation."

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