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County catches on to pretend Beckham

July 31, 2007|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Not even county government can escape David Beckham fever.

A crank caller impersonating England's superstar import, the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, deluged Los Angeles County and Sheriff's Department offices in the last week with offers to host charity events, give away game tickets and autograph jerseys.

The fake Beckham called county and sheriff's offices about a dozen times, said county Public Information Officer Judy Hammond. After the first call, county clerk Maria Saenz and student worker Susana Guillen, who keeps clipped photos of Beckham on her desk, "were just jumping up and down," Saenz said.

The caller chatted with county staffers about his charity work for children -- the real Beckham supports children's causes -- and described the black Mercedes he would be arriving in, Hammond said. The impostor also name-dropped that he was good pals with actor Tom Cruise.

"He was just very personable," Hammond said, recalling his suggestion to bring underprivileged kids to a Galaxy practice. Although alerted by a suspicious Sheriff's Department, she nonetheless played along with the calls "just in case it was real."

The county Department of Children and Family Services peppered the faux Beckham with questions, soon realizing that the calls -- sans a callback number -- were a hoax.

"It just smacked of bogusity," said Louise Grasmehr, spokeswoman for the county's child welfare system. The department regularly schedules professional athletes to visit children and invariably deals with their publicists, she said.

The child welfare department alerted sheriff's deputies and Galaxy staff. "It's kind of scary thinking that this person wanted access to children," Grasmehr said.

The soccer star's representatives confirmed that Beckham did not place the calls, which they described as "awful" and potentially disappointing to kids.

The Sheriff's Department is investigating the matter to "see if it rises to the level of some kind of offense," spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

But county officials never quite bought into the hoax, said Chief Executive William T Fujioka. "We're not country bumpkins," he said.

susannah.rosenblatt@ latimes.com

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