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Former principal testifies he didn't authorize Compton Dominguez coach to cash $15,000 check

Russell Otis is charged with stealing funds meant for the school district. And an ex-player says the coach offered him cash last year to participate in a sexual 'experiment.'

June 23, 2009|Lance Pugmire

A former Compton Dominguez High basketball player and the school's former principal were among the witnesses Monday as testimony began in the preliminary hearing of decorated former Dons coach Russell Otis and his longtime administrative ally.

Otis, 46, whose Dominguez teams won 10 Southern Section and six state titles from 1987 to 2008, faces felony charges of commercial burglary and meeting a minor for lewd purposes, plus a misdemeanor count of child molesting.

Ernie Carr, 60, the Compton Unified School District's former athletic director, is charged with felony grand theft and forgery.

On the first day of testimony at Los Angeles County Superior Court in Compton, the boy, now 17, said that just after midnight on Aug. 31 of last year, Otis showed up at his home, presumably to give the teen money to buy clothing. But soon, he said, the conversation turned to a sexual "experiment" Otis had allegedly mentioned in dozens of text messages.

The player said Otis offered $1,500, pulling $20 and $100 bills from his vehicle's ashtray, asking the boy to allow himself to be aroused by the coach.

"I was surprised," testified the player, whose name is not being published because of his age. "I said no. No is my final answer."

The player said he did accept $100 -- for clothes -- and Otis left.

Days later, the boy said he told his grandmother about the coach's actions. After that, the player said, Otis tried to convince him that he shouldn't be saying such things.

The boy said Otis, crying while pleading with him, said, "You're going to be the man [on the basketball team] this year . . ." and offered him "a lot of shoes."

Otis said outside court he would not have made such a promise because he had a returning starter at point guard. Although the boy testified his complaint to police was not based on playing time, attorney Leonard Levine said outside court, "The evidence is clear he wanted to transfer. He couldn't transfer without pleading some form of duress."

An independent investigator reported to the Compton district in April that the boy's claims were "unsubstantiated," partially because of a lack of corroboration. The player testified that "hundreds" of Otis' harassing text messages were deleted because of his mobile phone's overloaded inbox and a later malfunction.

Otis also has been accused of stealing money from the community where he has stood as a hero at championship ceremonies.

Prosecutors allege that Otis in October 2007 deposited into his personal account a $15,000 check from Nike to the Compton district, using a phony authorization letter crafted by Carr. Prosecutors say the coach then presented the letter, carrying an allegedly falsified signature of then-school principal Garry Roberson, to his bank.

Roberson testified he did not recall writing or signing the letter and he did not endorse the check or give Otis permission to deposit the funds into the coach's personal account.

Under questioning from Levine, Roberson said he did have "some trouble" with his memory as the result of a December 2007 stroke. However, the principal denied the attorney's suggestion he and Otis had agreed the coach's depositing funds into his account would be the most efficient way to get the money to the school's basketball program.

In two previous years, the Nike money was deposited into a district bank account and used for other programs, defense attorneys said.

Evidence also was introduced about a $2,100 stipend from the district Otis received to coach a Dominguez golf team that never played a match and $2,500 Otis got by turning in reimbursement forms for basketball expenditures lacking required receipts.

Testimony is expected to resume this morning at 9:30. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Gary Hahn will rule on whether the case should be held over for trial.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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