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D.A.'s Investigators Raid Office, Home in Probe of Film Agency

Inquiry: Officials seize records from EIDC's auditor and the property manager for Cody Cluff's home.

October 10, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH and STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Investigators from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office raided two offices doing business with the embattled Entertainment Industry Development Corp. and its president, Cody Cluff, Wednesday, gathering more financial documents pertaining to the quasi-public film permit agency, which has been under investigation by prosecutors since last year.

Authorities armed with search warrants seized home rental records for Cluff's San Dimas residence from Traditional Realtors Property Management in San Dimas and financial files from Sherman Oaks-based Kellogg & Andelson, which has performed annual EIDC audits for the last four years.

Bill Wall, vice president of Kellogg & Andelson, said that "they took all the records pertaining to the EIDC." Investigators left with boxes of tax returns and other financial records from the offices after appearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday, he said. Two hours earlier, Phil Cimino, who operates Traditional Realtors out of his house, was awakened by investigators pounding on his front door.

"All of a sudden there were eight uniformed men and women running into my house with their guns drawn," said Cimino, 64. " I'm not a criminal and they treated me like I was. I could see it if I was a drug dealer, but I'm just a property manager. I'm so shaken up."

The searches were the second wave of raids conducted by the district attorney's office in connection with its investigation of the EIDC for alleged misuse of funds. On Sept. 5, investigators searched the Hollywood offices of the EIDC, the San Dimas home of Cluff and the Covina home of his estranged wife.

Cluff receives an $1,800 monthly housing allowance as part of his employment contract with the EIDC, which was formed in 1995 when city and county officials decided to merge and privatize their film permitting operations.

Cimino said Cluff's rent in San Dimas is $1,800 a month. Officials would not say why they were interested in the rental agreement.

Cluff's lawyer, George Newhouse, said he had no idea why the district attorney was interested in Cluff's rental papers.

Cimino said the raid was intrusive. "They went into every cupboard and every drawer. I asked them what they were there for and they just waved a search warrant in front of my face," said Cimino. He said he was interrogated for an hour before they showed him the second page of the search warrant, which had Cluff's name on it.

He then told investigators that Cluff's rental records were in a second-floor office of his home. "I told them I'll get you the documentation. They said no, we'll find it. I told them that I live alone. They went upstairs with their guns drawn. I told them that I have a dog with a heart condition and that the dog was up on the bed."

Cimino said that even after he gave investigators the Cluff file, they continued their search. "They tore apart my office."

David Guthman, director of the district attorney's bureau of fraud and corruption prosecutions, acknowledged that guns were drawn in accordance with office policy. He said that the home was not trashed and that prosecutors have "before" and "after" photos to prove so. He said records show that Cimino owns a firearm and that it is standard procedure for investigators to take precautions.

Cimino said, "I had to plead with them so I could take my medication so I could settle down. I went to get it in the cabinet and that's when they pulled my arm behind my back. They could have just subpoenaed the files. They wanted to check everything ... and for what? A lousy rental property."

Newhouse called the search "an unacceptable abuse of law enforcement power. You don't need to use a hand grenade when a fly swatter will do."

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