Seated in a straight-backed chair and nervously eyeing the police sergeant sitting across the desk, former South Pasadena Assistant City Manager Charles M. Conn tried to explain why he transferred money from a public organization's checking account into his personal account.
He came up blank. "Why? Why? Why? Why?" the thin, balding 46-year-old bureaucrat asked himself, resting his head in his hands. "I pushed it too far," he later muttered.
A videotape of Conn's July 31 statement to police, obtained by The Times on Friday, begins to answer some of the questions surrounding his alleged embezzlement, just one of the scandals to rock the normally quiet suburb in recent weeks. But his answers apparently were not enough to satisfy police, who are seen arresting Conn at the conclusion of the 15-minute tape.
Conn was charged last week with grand theft and embezzlement and resigned from his position in South Pasadena.
Conn may have had a hard time understanding his own alleged embezzlement, but prosecutors say he thought about it enough to do it twice. The first time Conn's superiors discovered the alleged theft they told him to put the money back. The second time they found an alleged embezzlement they ordered an investigation, authorities say.
And now some officials say his case raises questions about oversight of City Hall.
Senior city officials say much of the trouble occurred on the watch of the previous city manager, Ken Farfsing, who left South Pasadena in June to become city manager of Signal Hill. His replacement, interim City Manager Linda Holmes, ordered the investigation of Conn.
Recently, Holmes also began a personnel review of South Pasadena Police Chief Thomas Mahoney and his leadership of the department. Farfsing said that he considered the Conn case still under investigation when he left in June and that the then-city attorney had told him he could not take immediate action against Conn when Farfsing allegedly caught Conn stealing. "I was devastated when I heard he had taken the money again," Farfsing said, referring to the arrest.
In 1994, while Conn was president of the Assn. of Local Transit Administrators, a professional organization of officials from a number of cities, the group dissolved. As its president, Conn was responsible for disposing its funds--which consisted of money given by the member cities.
In his police interview, Conn said he intended to create a scholarship fund with the extra cash. Instead, it lay dormant in a bank account for two years, until last March. Conn then wrote two checks to himself from the account, he told South Pasadena Police Sgt. Bill Courtice in the videotaped interview.
"I moved [the funds] out of this particular account," Conn said. "I was going to put them elsewhere and then decided not to. . . . Probably not [a] very good idea."
The next month, the money was redeposited in the organization's account. Conn said that when Farfsing discovered the transfer, "He said: 'This doesn't look good,' " Conn told Courtice. "I said 'Yeah, you're right.' "
South Pasadena City Councilman Harry Knapp said Farfsing told council members he had caught Conn taking the money and had ordered him to return it. Council members said that only Farfsing had the power to fire Conn, and his decision did not sit well with them.
In late May, Conn wrote two more checks from the association account, Courtice said on the tape. Again he redeposited money in the organization's account, but this time allegedly did not return all of the funds, according to the charges.
And this time, Holmes told the Police Department to investigate.
Conn's lawyer, Jon Crosley, said his client was strapped for money because he was getting married and buying a new house around the time of the alleged embezzlement. "He was trying to do the right thing by his bride," Crosley said. "It was more about love than money."
"The man is not denying he did wrong," said Crosley, who provided the videotape to The Times. He added that Conn has now paid back all of the $12,250 he is charged with taking. "He feels great shame and remorse."
In the videotape, after he tells Conn he is placing him under arrest, Courtice asks whether he took the money "to tide [himself] over." Conn eventually agrees. Then Courtice, who reminded Conn that they had always been on friendly terms, asks if he believed in "a supreme being."
"This is a good time to renew your relationship" with that being, Courtice says, preparing to book Conn and take him to County Jail.
"This has destroyed my career," Conn says.