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Coliseum: Two more ex-employees charged in theft of funds

December 05, 2012|Baul Pringle, Andrew Blankstein and Rong-Gong Lin II

Prosecutors filed theft and conspiracy charges Wednesday against two former employees of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, bringing to eight the number of people charged in the corruption scandal at the historic stadium.

The city attorney brought misdemeanor charges against former warehouse worker Ulises Luna, 33, and ex-payroll clerk Maria De La Torre, 38, accusing them of stealing Coliseum funds by processing and cashing falsified salary checks.

In the complaint, prosecutors allege that De La Torre continued to issue checks to Luna after he was laid off late last year and split the proceeds with him. Luna collected at least 10 checks totaling nearly $4,000 between January and April of this year, according to the complaint.

Full coverage: Coliseum under scrutiny

Three former Coliseum managers, two prominent concert promoters and a stadium contractor were indicted in March on numerous felony counts in a district attorney’s investigation. The probe followed Times reports of financial irregularities at the taxpayer-owned stadium and companion Sports Arena.

Luna and De La Torre are due in court next month, when they will be ordered to post bail.

Each faces five counts of grand theft, embezzlement, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and passing a forged document. They are also accused of one count each of illegally possessing a check. 

If convicted on all charges, they could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in county jail and be required to pay restitution.

Luna was laid off in December 2011. De La Torre later resigned and has paid back $1,500 to the Coliseum, prosecutors said.

“This kind of criminal activity should not be tolerated, especially in a public agency,” City Atty. Carmen Trutanich said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to protect public funds, to recover those funds when stolen and hold those offenders accountable for their crimes.”

The city attorney’s office handled the case against Luna and De La Torre because it is responsible for prosecuting misdemeanors. 

In the district attorney’s case, the six defendants are charged in a broad corruption scheme involving bribery, embezzlement and kickbacks. Former Coliseum General Manager Patrick Lynch has pleaded guilty in an arrangement with prosecutors to avoid jail.

Four other defendants have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. The contractor is a fugitive.

The district’s attorney investigation was launched in February 2011 after The Times, citing records and interviews, disclosed financial dealings between one of the concert promoters and former Coliseum events manager Todd DeStefano. Subsequent Times reports focused on questionable financial practices of other stadium employees.

The disclosures led to audits by the Coliseum Commission and city controller’s office.

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