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Two Former L.A. City Gardeners Convicted of Soliciting Bribe : Court: In a plea bargain, charges of accepting payoffs from a man sentenced to do parks work instead of jail time are dropped. Both are put on three years probation.

April 13, 1993|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two former Los Angeles city parks gardeners were convicted Monday of soliciting a bribe from a man sentenced to do parks work instead of serving jail time, and authorities disclosed that other city employees have been fired on similar grounds.

But as part of a plea bargain, charges of actually accepting the bribe--which authorities said they captured on audiotape in a sting operation--were dropped against the two longtime employees of the city Department of Recreation and Parks.

Willard M. Stone and Manuel G. Perez, who supervised cleanup efforts at several city parks in the San Fernando Valley, agreed to plead no contest to one felony count each of soliciting a bribe.

Neither Stone nor Perez spoke during a brief hearing in Los Angeles Municipal Court downtown, except to reply "No contest" when asked how they pleaded.

Afterward, both men and their lawyers refused comment on the case or the plea bargain.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol Straughn defended the plea agreement, saying the lesser charges, which also included altering public documents, were approved so the case would not have to go to trial.

"They did enter the plea at an early stage; I think they wanted to get this behind them," said Straughn, a Special Investigations Division prosecutor. "We felt that at this stage, this (remaining) count pretty much stated what the crime was."

Both men were placed on three years of felony probation, ordered to perform 400 hours of community service work with Caltrans and fined up to $1,000 each.

Stone, 54, a senior gardener from Granada Hills, and Perez, 41, a Pacoima gardener-caretaker, were fired March 1 because of the bribe solicitation. Both men had worked more than 10 years for the city, and both have appealed their dismissals. A hearing examiner who works for the city's Board of Civil Service Commissioners is scheduled to hear the appeals.

The Times disclosed last October that the Recreation and Parks Department had launched a citywide investigation into possible corruption within its ranks because of concerns that controls were lax in the mammoth community service program under which convicted offenders are sentenced to do unpaid work for local government or civic agencies instead of going to jail.

On Monday, city officials confirmed that the investigation did uncover corruption, and that they recently fired two other full-time employees and several part-time workers accused of wrongdoing.

"There was no way we could prove they were taking bribes, but we proved to our satisfaction that what they were doing was definitely, totally, inappropriate," said Elliott Porter, the department's personnel director. He would not elaborate, citing the employees' rights to confidentiality. He said most of the dismissed employees worked in the central part of the city.

The case against Stone and Perez stems from a September, 1992, incident in which the two asked Glenn Schiff, who had been convicted of a minor offense in a Newhall court, if he wanted to buy his way out of 125 hours of community service work by paying them $125, authorities said.

Perez and Stone, his boss, oversaw dozens of court-ordered community service workers sent out on cleanup jobs at Valley parks each week from the department's Northridge District Maintenance Yard in the western San Fernando Valley.

Schiff complained to police about the bribe solicitation. Police equipped him with a hidden recorder, on which he taped conversations with Stone and Perez. He not only discussed the bribe on tape but gave them the money they asked for on Oct. 5, said Detective Tom Henton of the Los Angeles Police Department. Schiff could not be reached for comment.

The case marks the first time in at least 18 years that a supervisor, in this case Stone, was formally accused of bribery, Porter said. Since the arrest of Stone and Perez, the Recreation and Parks Department has instituted a number of controls, including limiting the number of supervisors who can approve time cards of offenders doing community service work, Porter said.

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