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$46,834 Labeled Misused at EIDC

Film agency leader conspired with Pittsburgh official, affidavit says.

November 07, 2002|Steve Berry and Anita M. Busch | Times Staff Writers

Cody Cluff, head of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., conspired to misappropriate $46,834 in funds with the Pittsburgh film commissioner to whom he once sent flowers and an "I love you" note, according to allegations in court documents.

The figure was disclosed in an affidavit for a search in Pittsburgh earlier this week. It is more than three times what had been previously alleged.

The document alleged that Cluff lacked authority to give EIDC funds to the Pittsburgh Film Office and a national film advocacy group called FilmUS, both of which are headed by Dawn Keezer. Cluff is acting secretary of FilmUS, a group of 196 state and local film commissioners organized to stem the flow of film production from the U.S.

The 20-page document , prepared by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, also cited a $1,489 bill paid for by the EIDC for a "Mr. and Mrs. Cody and Dawn Cluff" in 2000.

Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, who resigned from the EIDC board recently, called the new allegations "embarrassing" to elected officials.

"The more we learn, the more twisted the operation of Cody Cluff and the EIDC seems to be," he said Wednesday. "It creates greater suspicion about the alleged misappropriation of funds, whether it's public or private."

Cluff's attorney, Tom Brown, said that his client had done nothing wrong. Brown said the prosecutor's focus on the relationship between Keezer and Cluff "diverts attention from the real issue." He said the office of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has used tactics worthy of the National Enquirer.

"It just doesn't have anything to do with what could or could not have been done with the funds," Brown said.

Keezer's attorney, Stanton Levenson of Pittsburgh, said that "there is nothing in the affidavit that could be construed as conspiracy," regardless of whether the two had a romantic relationship. Levenson said he had no information about the relationship.

In the affidavit, senior investigator Kimberly Michael wrote, "Because of Cluff's personal relationship with Keezer, I believe he offered financial support for the Pittsburgh Film Office by using public funds from the EIDC."

She said, "Cluff ... did not have the authority to loan, grant or give public monies to any other agency or facility without the approval of the board of directors of the EIDC."

EIDC, which coordinates the issuing of film permits in Los Angeles County, spent as much as $25,000 on legal fees and tax preparation to set up and incorporate FilmUS. In the affidavit, investigators said money directed to the Pittsburgh Film Office and FilmUS by Cluff was a misuse of public funds because, they contend, the EIDC is public and was not organized to create other businesses in California or in other states.

The legal question of whether the EIDC is public or private will ultimately be resolved in court and will be a key factor in determining whether the EIDC's funds were misspent.

"There is no misappropriation of funds," said Brown, asserting that the EIDC is a private corporation.

Prosecutors have alleged in court papers that the misuse of funds by Cluff and EIDC includes money spent for personal expense accounts and political contributions made by the office to elected officials, some of whom serve on EIDC's board of directors and executive committee.

Meanwhile, the EIDC's executive committee meeting, which was scheduled for today, was canceled Wednesday for lack of a quorum. The committee had been scheduled to discuss bids received for an audit of the EIDC.

The affidavit led to a search in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the third raid involving nine locations in its investigation of Cluff and the EIDC.

The search was carried out by investigators from Los Angeles and Allegheny counties and the FBI at the Pittsburgh Film Office, Keezer's home and the Mendelson Art Gallery, where Cluff purchased an $8,700 painting, according to the affidavit. Brown said that the painting hangs in Cluff's EIDC office.

Michael questioned the legitimacy of FilmUS, whose board includes commissioners from New York, Michigan and Virginia. The group has no staff, and none of its board is salaried.

FilmUS "does not seem to have a tangible existence or function," Michael said. "I have not discovered evidence of FilmUS serving any legitimate purpose."

The agency is well-known in Hollywood, and its representatives have lobbied Congress for tax breaks to entice filmmakers to remain in the United States.

Some of the other expenses revealed in the affidavit included Federal Express bills for expenses to transport such items as a Pittsburgh Film Office phone charger, Keezer's FilmUS business cards, and numerous FilmUS documents.

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