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County probation official arrested on fraud charges

Former Assemblyman Carl Edward Washington is accused of filing false identity theft claims.

September 18, 2012|Richard Winton and Jason Song

The arrests seem to be piling up at an unusual pace.

Two weeks ago, a six-year employee of the Los Angeles County Probation Department was charged with persistently filing false workers' compensation claims.

Earlier this month, police arrested a probation officer for allegedly shooting a man in a Covina bar. Those cases came on top of the dozens of drunk driving, drug possession and theft arrests that seemed scattered throughout the 6,500-employee agency.

On Monday, FBI agents arrested the highest-ranking member of the department yet -- Carl Edward Washington, a division chief of intergovernmental relations and former state legislator.

Washington, 47, was taken into custody about 10 a.m. He is accused of defrauding a bank and two credit unions by falsely claiming to be a victim of identity theft.

He was released on $25,000 bond after a hearing in federal court and could not be reached for comment.

Washington was one of at least 40 county probation employees arrested in the last 12 months, 32 of whom were sworn law enforcement officers.

"They shouldn't have 40 arrests in any department," said Connie Rice, a prominent Los Angeles civil rights attorney and law enforcement monitor who has been critical of the department. "If you have 40 arrests, that ought to be a sign that something is very wrong. It's like: 'Houston, we have a problem.' "

Probation officials quickly held a news conference, saying that Monday's arrest was part of an internal crackdown on misconduct in the department, which is responsible for supervising about 80,000 criminals who have been released from jail or juvenile detention.

Chief Jerry Powers said he was aware of other investigations and had begun to institute new policies, such as requiring potential hires to undergo polygraph tests, to root out the problem.

"There will be arrests in the future as we continue to rid the department of these employees," Powers said. "This is a very painful process but a necessary one."

Powers said he was particularly concerned with the level of crime found within the department.

"I have been doing this for 28 years and this is the largest [probation] department in the country so I would expect some employees arrested for driving under the influence," he said. But "I am particularly alarmed at the number of high-level fraud [and] drug offenses."

Although some employees abused their county positions, Powers said, none harmed a minor, misused public funds or compromised department operations.

Of the arrested employees, 20 were accused of driving under the influence; seven of theft or fraud; five of violent crimes; and three of drug offenses. Information on the other arrests was not available.

Powers was appointed chief last year by a Board of Supervisors that is eager to reform a sprawling 30-office agency that has seen a revolving door of leaders and is under federal oversight for misuse of force against juveniles.

In a 2010 investigation, The Times identified at least 11 Los Angeles County juvenile probation officers who had been convicted of crimes or disciplined for inappropriate conduct involving current or former probationers, including several cases of molesting or beating youths in their care.

Donald Blevins, who preceded Powers as probation department chief for about two years until leaving under pressure from county supervisors last year, said he was not surprised by the number of arrests given the turmoil that the department has faced.

Blevins said that to comply with federal mandates to increase the number of caseworkers, the department had to hire some employees without doing proper background checks.

"We had people working for us who should have never been hired in the first place," he said. "You look at this as a cleansing process.... If you can't avoid getting arrested you have no business being in law enforcement."

A six-year county employee, Washington is an ordained minister who was once an aide to retired Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke.

Starting in 1996, Washington was elected three times to the state Assembly, representing a district that included Compton and Paramount.

He unsuccessfully ran for Los Angeles City Council in 2001.

According to a federal indictment, Washington is accused of defrauding First City Credit Union, L.A. Financial Credit Union and Farmers and Merchants Bank from 2007 through 2011.

He allegedly obtained credit cards and loans to purchase airline tickets and hotel rooms, and to obtain cash advances.

He then stopped paying off his debts, claiming to be a victim of identity theft, according to documents.

Washington would send police reports of the alleged identify theft to credit reporting agencies and request that the credit cards and loans be removed from his financial records, prosecutors allege.

Washington would then apply for another round of credit cards and loans, according to the indictment. Authorities would say only that the amounts totaled "several thousand dollars."

Each of the six counts in the indictment carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison.

Despite the rash of arrests, the union representing probation employees defended its members in a statement Monday.

"We will not allow the arrest of this one individual, or of the handful of sworn officers who have allegedly violated the public's trust, to cast a cloud over the fine men and women who are supervising juvenile and adult probationers," the union said.

Powers said he plans to ask county supervisors for money to hire 11 extra internal affairs investigators to more thoroughly monitor the department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he was willing to consider Powers' request.

"The probation department has its unique challenges and it's high time we dealt with them," he said.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

jason.song@latimes.com

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