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Editorial

Baca's favored few

It's time to look closer at the sheriff's practice of helping high-profile friends and donors.

January 15, 2011

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca does not play favorites, it seems: As long as you're a multimillionaire, his department's investigative resources are at your disposal.

Baca's detectives have been spending an awful lot of time in the city of Beverly Hills lately, even though it's outside their jurisdiction. We were already dismayed when Times staff writer Robert Faturechi reported in October that the sheriff ordered a criminal investigation of a Beverly Hills tenant of real estate magnate Ezat Delijani, though the local police force had dismissed the case as a civil dispute and didn't ask the Sheriff's Department for help (the sheriff can legally investigate cases in any city in L.A. County, but normally this is done only by invitation). Now comes word that Baca seems to have done a similar favor for Guess Inc. co-founder Georges Marciano.

Faturechi reported Friday that Baca personally ordered a probe, which consumed about 500 hours of Det. Alex Gilinets' time, into allegations from Marciano that his Beverly Hills employees had embezzled $1.4 million. It was a pointless exercise. Several independent audits (which Baca says he was unaware of) showed there was no such theft, and a judge in a subsequent civil trial over Marciano's unfounded claims ordered the fashion mogul to pay $260 million in damages to the maligned workers. Interestingly, Marciano contributed $100,000 to two sheriff's charities after Baca ordered the investigation. Delijani is a longtime donor too. Anybody see a pattern here?

Gilinets testified in a civil proceeding that the Marciano case was given "special" status, which he said is reserved for high-profile victims and entails a higher degree of scrutiny. Baca says he didn't intentionally invest his order with any such status, even if his staff seems to have interpreted it that way. Having a special designation for crimes involving important people or heavy media attention certainly presents the appearance that politics have taken over a department that's supposed to be enforcing laws fairly for all the people of L.A. County.

After the Delijani affair came to light, Baca asked the county's Office of Independent Review to study the case and develop guidelines on how the sheriff should handle investigation requests from friends and donors. The review isn't finished, but it looks as if it should be widened. It's time for the Board of Supervisors to get involved as well. Though Baca is an independent elected official and doesn't answer to the board, it does control his budget, and it has appointed a special counsel to report semiannually on the Sheriff's Department. A separate probe by the consultant on Baca's apparent favoritism would be appropriate.

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