Questionable financial practices led to felony corruption charges against… (Los Angeles Times )
The overseers of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum concealed from the public independent reports of lax financial controls and widespread spending abuses at the taxpayer-owned stadium that included sloppy accounting of hot dog sales and excessive perks for managers, records show.
Problems detailed in the reports by two independent audit and consulting firms compounded money woes that leaders of the Coliseum Commission cited as a chief reason they decided to turn over stewardship of the two-time Olympic venue to USC.
The Times obtained the reports through the court as part of a pending lawsuit the news organization filed against the commission, alleging that the panel has violated the California Public Records Act and open-meetings law. The commission refused to release the reports when The Times first inquired about them in 2011.
Other records obtained through the lawsuit show that the commission conferred with USC before responding to Times requests for email and other documents under the act.
Jim Ewert, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said it was "totally inappropriate" for a government agency to consult a private university about the requests.
"What if USC says, 'Don't release that?' " Ewert said. "The Public Records Act request needs to be considered on the merits."
At the time of the requests, the commission was negotiating a new lease with USC, whose football team is the Coliseum's main tenant, and holding closed-door deliberations on the proposed agreement.
The commission has withheld from The Times a number of email exchanges with the school, claiming they are exempt from disclosure under the records act. The lawsuit asks the court to order the email released.
The reports by SingerLewak and Mercer confirmed a pattern of financial irregularities on the watch of the nine-member commission, which is made up of representatives of the city, county and state. The reports were compiled in the wake of Times reports on questionable financial practices that eventually led to felony corruption charges against three former Coliseum managers and three people who did business with the stadium.
The commission president, county Supervisor Don Knabe, did not respond to an interview request. The panel's top manager, John Sandbrook, declined to be interviewed.
The SingerLewak report, which refers to examinations conducted in the summer of 2011, concludes that the Coliseum concession stands failed "to reasonably ensure that all sales are recorded and that all cash is collected."
It says that up to 44% of hot dogs were eaten by concession employees or declared "spoiled" during one USC game.
Water was another trouble spot, the reports says. For example, it says, a SingerLewak representative bought two $5 bottles of water, paying the full amount, but was given no receipt and the sale appeared to be recorded as a single $5 purchase.
Elsewhere, the report focuses on the practices of the Coliseum's former finance director, Ronald Lederkramer. Echoing Times revelations, it points to his use of a personal Visa card to charge about $273,000 in Coliseum equipment purchases to earn valuable travel points for himself, bypassing procedures designed to get the stadium the best terms.
The SingerLewak findings similarly questioned thousands of dollars in reimbursements for insurance, repairs and tires for Lederkramer's luxury car and for some of his medical expenses, including $1,000 in charges from a plastic surgeon that he double-billed to the commission.
Lederkramer went on leave in 2011 and later left the commission. He did not respond to an interview request Wednesday.
The Mercer report offers a survey of perks in other industries that shows Coliseum managers were among the elite. It says that fewer than 15% of top managers in the healthcare and the not-for-profit sectors receive the sort of car reimbursements given to Coliseum administrators at that time.