The official watchdog for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will probe Sheriff Lee Baca's decision to launch an investigation in another agency's jurisdiction on behalf of a well-connected fashion magnate, an official said Friday.
The Office of Independent Review's announcement comes in response to a Times article showing that Baca opened an investigation in 2006 on behalf of Guess Inc. co-founder Georges Marciano, who donated $100,000 to sheriff's charities during the investigation. The case was designated as "special" and a sheriff's detective said he devoted about 500 hours to it, more than he had spent on any other investigation. Eventually, the detective and prosecutors found no criminal wrongdoing.
Baca has the authority to launch investigations anywhere in the county, even in jurisdictions such as Beverly Hills that have their own police forces. But law enforcement experts say it's unusual to do so without being invited in.
In the Marciano case, Baca said the investigation was warranted because of the "magnitude" of the allegations by Marciano, who claimed employees embezzled $1.4 million. Baca said he did not discuss charitable donations or political contributions with Marciano, and that he was unaware of outside accounting audits showing that no money was stolen.
But Baca's critics said the case is another example of special access the sheriff has provided to donors and other influential individuals. In October, a Times investigation detailed a similar case in which Baca launched a criminal investigation inside another agency's jurisdiction on behalf of Ezat Delijani, a well-connected Beverly Hills businessman who had given the sheriff political contributions and expensive gifts.
In that case, a lease dispute was assigned "rush" status, generally reserved for homicides and other high-priority cases, and was labeled by sheriff's deputies as a "Sheriff Baca Special Request." The Beverly Hills Police Department had previously concluded that the case was a civil matter. Prosecutors initially declined to file charges after the sheriff's investigation, citing a lack of evidence. That decision was reversed after an appeal from the Sheriff's Department.
The Office of Independent Review has also been investigating that case after a request from Baca.
Michael Gennaco, who heads the office, said it was still unclear if his investigation of the Marciano case would be combined with the Delijani inquiry, or done separately.
"It's the same theme played in a different way," Gennaco said of the two cases.
After the Delijani investigation was detailed by The Times in October, Gennaco said Baca had committed no violations in launching the inquiry. Asked on Friday if there were any potential violations in the Marciano case, Gennaco said he would wait before judging.
"I'm not even going to go there at this point," Gennaco said.
Both watchdog inquiries are examining perceptions of favoritism in the cases and evaluating guidelines that would help the sheriff decide how to handle investigation requests brought directly to his attention, including pleas from donors, celebrities and friends.
At Baca's request, county supervisors established the Office of Independent Review in 2001 as a civilian oversight agency monitoring allegations of misconduct in the department. Baca has turned to it for investigations in the past.
In an interview Friday, Baca reiterated that there was no wrongdoing in his decision to launch either investigation. He said he was open to the prospects of another Office of Independent Review inquiry.
"You can learn things in all things you do," Baca said.