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Angeles County | Community News File / West Covina

City Wants FBI to Probe Charges Involving Officials

January 22, 1998

The West Covina city attorney, acting on orders from the City Council, on Wednesday began the process of asking the FBI to launch an investigation into misconduct allegations involving local law enforcement leaders, officials said.

The move comes after the council met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss the city attorney's report on how Police Chief John T. Distelrath and a local prosecutor handled a year-old traffic dispute in which Mayor Ben Wong flashed a city badge at a motorist and confiscated his driver's license after a fender-bender in Los Angeles.

A Distelrath memo states that he consulted Deputy Dist. Atty. David Demerjian, who said the case might be a "technical petty theft" but that his office wouldn't handle it. But Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said Demerjian actually told Distelrath to take the matter to the Los Angeles city attorney's office, which could file petty theft or other misdemeanor charges.

Distelrath denies any wrongdoing.

"We haven't gotten answers from the district attorney's office and the information from the chief doesn't suffice," City Councilman Michael Touhey said.

An FBI spokesman said after the city sends a written complaint, the agency will determine whether there is a possible violation of federal law, which would enable it to investigate.

Distelrath is already on a paid leave prompted by an unrelated conflict-of-interest probe into his hiring of a consultant for the Police Department who was also his partner in a private business. Wednesday, officials said Distelrath used federal drug forfeiture funds to pay for the consultant, an action that city officials will also ask the FBI to review for possible impropriety.

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