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Sergeant who reported Bell corruption wins whistle-blower settlement

Police Sgt. James Corcoran, who said he was forced into retirement in retaliation for reporting corruption in Bell, wins $400,000 and has been reinstated to the force.

August 04, 2012|By Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times

A Bell police sergeant who said he was forced into retirement in retaliation for reporting corruption in the city has received $400,000 and been reinstated to the force.

The size of the settlement of James Corcoran's whistle-blower lawsuit is far less than what he might have received at trial, experts agreed.

Retired U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian, who served as mediator, said Bell could have lost more than $3 million if the case had gone to trial, according to a memo that City Atty. Dave Aleshire wrote to City Council members.

"He thought that, given everything out there about Bell and how it operated and the idea of a whistle-blower, the management of Bell was a very unsympathetic defendant and the jury would want to send a message to the city," Aleshire told The Times.

City Manager Doug Willmore said he thought the settlement was "almost an act of generosity" on Corcoran's part.

Corcoran will receive $240,000 in lost wages and $160,000 in attorneys' fees. The council approved the settlement Wednesday.

Corcoran, who had worked as a Bell police officer for 19 years, said he took the deal "to go back to work. To go back to my profession. It's a matter of professional pride."

He also said he agreed to the settlement because he was "looking out for my city."

Corcoran said then-Police Chief Randy Adams was angered when Corcoran went to him with allegations of voter fraud, unlawful vehicle seizures and illegal selling of building permits. He said Adams wanted Corcoran to let him know if he took his information to the FBI, although Corcoran already had spoken to the bureau.

Corcoran also said that in 2009, he and two other Bell officers went to the district attorney's office to try to persuade the agency to investigate city officials.

Thomas O'Brien, Adams' attorney, has denied that the former chief became angry at Corcoran or tried to intervene in any investigation. He has said Adams did not act on the allegations because Corcoran told him he had reported them to other agencies.

Before Adams took over as chief, Corcoran had "essentially a clean record," Aleshire's memo said.

Adams was ousted as chief after The Times revealed the enormous salaries that top officials in the city were earning. Eight former leaders were ultimately arrested on corruption-related charges. Adams was not among the eight.

Corcoran will resume work as a patrolman and then return to his old sergeant's position when a slot opens.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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