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Longo to Be Dismissed by D.A.'s Office

Investigation: Appearance of conflict created by his family's financial dealings with rap mogul 'Suge' Knight is cited. Prosecutor denies wrongdoing.

February 23, 1997|CHUCK PHILIPS and ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The district attorney's office has concluded that Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence M. Longo should be fired because his family's financial ties to rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight created the appearance of conflict of interest.

The five-month personnel investigation was launched after the district attorney's office learned that Knight cut a record deal with Longo's 18-year-old daughter and lived last summer in a Malibu Colony home owned by Longo's family while the prosecutor was overseeing Knight's case stemming from a 1992 assault. Knight is the owner of Death Row Records.

Longo learned of the intention to fire him Saturday morning in an 11-page letter hand-delivered by the district attorney's office. The letter said Longo will be discharged Friday for violating his duty as a prosecutor by engaging in actions that created an appearance of conflict of interest and impropriety, sources said.

Longo, who is the target of a separate investigation by the state attorney general's office, denied any wrongdoing but declined further comment on Saturday.

Westwood attorney Donald R. Wager, who represents Longo, said he plans to challenge the district attorney's allegations in a Civil Service Commission hearing, after which he is confident that Longo will be reinstated.

"The district attorney's office is factually and legally incorrect in their assessment of Mr. Longo's actions," Wager said. "We are confident that the commission will ultimately restore Larry to employment."

Steven A. Sowders, who headed the district attorney's investigation, could not be reached for comment. Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said Saturday: "I have nothing to say."

The revelations of financial dealings between Longo's family and Knight surfaced just days before last November's elections and quickly became a point of contention in the final days of the campaign between Garcetti and challenger John Lynch.

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The challenger asserted that Garcetti had tried to keep the investigation of Longo quiet until after the Nov. 5 election; Garcetti's campaign aides said he was not trying to hide anything.

The district attorney has also said that there was nothing improper in the way Knight's case had been handled by Longo.

Longo, who has worked for the district attorney's office for 26 years, was taken off Knight's case on Sept. 17 when the district attorney's office received a tip that Knight had been living in the Longo family's Malibu house.

The prosecutor was placed on administrative leave with pay in October following disclosures in The Times that Longo's daughter Gina had signed a $50,000 record deal with Death Row on Jan. 2, 1996.

Longo's daughter, the only white act on Death Row's roster, has said she received her deal solely on the merit of her singing. She went back into the studio last month to continue working on her upcoming debut album.

The Times also disclosed that Longo's son, Frank, rented the family's Malibu Colony house to Knight's attorney David Kenner for one year at $19,000 per month. Kenner has said he allowed Knight to live at the house. Kenner stopped paying rent in December and was sued last month by Longo.

Two weeks ago, Longo met with Sowders and an investigator from the district attorney's office to discuss Longo's financial dealings with Knight and Longo's role in a handful of other cases.

During the meeting, sources said, Longo was asked about alleged discrepancies in Longo's time card records dating back 10 years, but those were not cited in the termination letter. Sources said that at the meeting the district attorney's office asked Longo to turn over his badge and official identification.

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Longo's dismissal will take effect on the same day Knight is due back in Los Angeles Superior Court for a probation violation hearing that could send the rap executive to prison for nine years.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger revoked Knight's probation on Nov. 26 for his role in an assault at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas on Sept. 7, which was captured on a hotel surveillance video tape.

Czuleger, who said he believed the tape showed Knight participating in the assault, sent Knight to state custody for a three-month "diagnostic evaluation" and ordered him back to court on Friday for sentencing.

The case before Czuleger stems from a 1992 assault on two aspiring rappers in a Hollywood studio. Under the terms of a plea bargain struck in February 1995, Knight entered no-contest pleas to two counts of assault; Judge John Ouderkirk suspended a nine-year prison term and imposed five years probation.

On Oct. 22, Ouderkirk sent Knight to Los Angeles County Jail pending the probation violation hearing. The next week Ouderkirk bowed out and Czuleger took over the case.

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