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Deputies Union Office Is Raided

In Riverside County, federal agents seek evidence while use of a trust fund is probed.

September 29, 2006|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

Armed federal agents in blue windbreakers and business suits raided the office of the Riverside Sheriffs' Assn. on Thursday, an action that comes as the FBI investigates the use of the association's legal trust fund.

Officials at the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office refused to discuss the investigation, but an agent involved in the raid at the Riverside office park was seen carrying a search warrant that included the last name of the sheriffs' association president, Pat McNamara.

This summer, federal prosecutors filed a confidential document in Superior Court stating that the FBI and U.S. Department of Labor were investigating whether money from the association's legal trust fund was embezzled, according to a report by the Press Enterprise in Riverside. The document was inadvertently posted on the court website and then removed, the newspaper reported.

The attorneys for the union and the legal trust fund released a brief statement after the raid: "The RSA and its Legal Defense Trust have fully cooperated with the Department of Labor inquiry from the very beginning, and will continue to cooperate with authorities. Both the RSA and the Legal Defense Trust believe that they have done nothing wrong or improper, and they look forward to being vindicated in this matter."

McNamara did not return calls for comment Thursday.

The Riverside Sheriffs' Assn. represents 2,700 deputies and other law enforcement and public safety personnel employed by Riverside County.

Thursday's raid comes in the midst of a nasty court battle between McNamara and a former employee who handled the union's legal defense fund.

McNamara is suing the former employee, Scott Teutscher, alleging defamation, and this month federal officials won a court order to the halt the discovery phase of that case, saying they needed to complete "certain criminal proceedings" involving McNamara and Teutscher.

The legal dispute between the two men, who oversaw the day-to-day operations of the association's legal trust fund, began in 2005 after several sheriff's offices in Riverside County received unsigned faxes bearing the heading "Corruption Within the Sheriffs' Association."

The memos alleged that money was embezzled from the union's legal trust fund under McNamara's direction to pay the attorney fees of a former Riverside County sheriff's deputy who was facing criminal charges, according to court documents.

In the defamation lawsuit filed last year, McNamara accused Teutscher of sending the anonymous faxes and making other remarks accusing him of embezzlement to ruin McNamara's reputation.

More details of the case emerged this month when Teutscher filed a counter-lawsuit against the association, McNamara and other RSA employees.

Teutscher, who declined to comment, states in court documents that after he became the association's legal operations manager in 2002, he noticed that McNamara and other top officials were funneling trust fund money to Duane Winchell, who was described in the lawsuit as McNamara's "personal friend" and a former deputy who had been fired.

Court records show Winchell was charged with stalking and vandalism in 2002.

Teutscher alleges in his lawsuit that when he confronted McNamara and other top RSA officials about what he viewed as improper transactions, he was told to "shut up" and do his job.

The lawyer for the union, Manny Abascal, said the organization acted appropriately in providing benefits for the fired deputy.

"The union has a benefit plan that provides legal services for a deputy in need," said Abascal, noting that the union reviewed Winchell's case and determined that he was covered.

"We don't discuss the merit or circumstances of any individual cases," he said. "The decision was made to provide him benefits under the plan, and the union stands by it."

Teutscher said that about six months after the anonymous faxes went out accusing McNamara of wrongdoing -- which he denies sending -- he cooperated with officials from the district attorney's office who interviewed him about the possible misuse of funds.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said the investigation was handed over to federal officials.

Around that time, Teutscher maintains, an employee in his office falsely accused him of throwing a file at her three months earlier. It was an accusation he said was used as a ruse to get him fired.

Before he was terminated Sept. 11, 2005, Teutscher says, he met with RSA Executive Director James Cunningham, who asked him to admit that he had been meeting with investigators and giving information about the internal affairs of the association.

Abascal said the association intended to vigorously contest Teutscher's lawsuit.

"We do not in any way agree with that characterization" that he was wrongfully terminated, Abascal said.

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