Controller Greuel’s Coliseum audit reveals fraud and mismanagement

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Years of fraud and mismanagement of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum have finally boiled over, resulting in an audit by Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel.

The audit comes in the wake of an investigation of several officers of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, including the former General Manager of the stadium, Patrick Lynch.

“What’s clear is that the management controls over the Coliseum spending were weak, or nonexistent,” Greuel said Thursday morning, “resulting in millions of dollars in wasteful spending, fraudulent activity, and misuse of funds.”

Greuel says the largest example of such fraud occurred when Lynch issued hundreds of thousands of dollars in advanced payments to South American companies to have five Uruguayan all-star soccer teams play at the Coliseum.

“Despite paying more than $870,000 in unreturned deposits, none of these events ever occurred,” said Greuel, “and no contracts were ever formally approved by the commission board.”

So if the games never took place, what happened to all the money?

Controller Greuel explained, “More than $75,000 in bonuses were paid to employees outside of the city’s payroll system that were filed improperly to the IRS.”

Lynch even managed to give himself the maximum bonus of $125,000 from 2007 to 2010, despite the Coliseum’s declining profitability. The Coliseum took a financial hit when it dropped four rave concerts popular among USC students.

“The average rent for the four most prominent raves held at the Coliseum declined significantly while those same events’ gross ticket sales increased significantly. They made a lot of money, those festivals,” said Greuel, “The Coliseum did not.”

With such public mismanagement damaging the commission’s reputation, USC could possibly take advantage and throw its hat in the ring for Coliseum ownership. The university has been trying to own the coliseum for years. Greuel isn’t sold on the notion, but knows that some sort of change is a must.

“I don’t know all the details of the USC deal,” Greuel said. “I think what is clear is that the current structure of the Coliseum Commission doesn’t work and that we need to look at other alternatives. Everything should be on the table.”

Controller Greuel may be unsure of the Coliseum’s future, but there is one thing she is sure of: As long as she is City Controller, a crime like this will never happen again.

New LAUSD program makes breakfast a priority

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imageYou probably used to hear it from your parents all the time.

“It turns out our moms were right,” Mayor Villaraigosa said Thursday morning. “Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.”

It’s so important, that Villaraigosa has joined the Los Angeles Unified School District and community organization, InnerCity Struggle, to form “Food For Thought.”

The new program is primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and looks to offer LAUSD students breakfast in the classroom.

“Food For Thought” will give students free breakfast at the start of each day, offering healthy options such as fresh fruit, whole wheat muffins, and one-percent milk.

But isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to feed their children in the morning?

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says, “not necessarily.”

“It is a community’s responsibility,” Deasy said. “So that if a parent would not have the means, then we wrap our arms around the student and make sure that no one goes hungry.”

Monica Garcia, Board President of the LAUSD, believes “Food For Thought” will increase student attendance, decrease child obesity, and help students reach her ambitious goal.

“We said one hundred percent graduation and we meant it,” Garcia said. “Breakfast in the classroom helps kids get to graduation. Breakfast in the classroom help our employees maximize the service for our young people.”

Deasy shares Garcia’s goal of a perfect graduation rate, and says that poverty shouldn’t hurt a student’s chances of success.

“If great breakfast is good enough in Beverly Hills, it’s good enough in Boyle Heights. The idea that every student deserves [to] and will graduate college workforce ready is not a dream; it’s not unattainable. It’s the right of students.”

David Binkle, Deputy Director of Food Services for the LAUSD, knows that an empty stomach in the morning can lead to poor performance in the classroom.

“If you have a hungry stomach, then you focus on the hunger pains as opposed to focusing on whatever it is you’re trying to focus on,” said Binkle. “And in our case, in the educational day, the kids are trying to focus on learning life lessons; they’re trying to learn mathematics and science.”
Maria Brenes, Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle, is happy to help feed hungry children, but says that in the long run, “Food For Thought” can help more than just students.

“We have to play that role of being that safety net for these families and for these children so that they can succeed, go on to graduate, go on to college, and be able to come back to our communities and be those teachers and be those elected officials, and those doctors. So it’s a community investment.”

Now that is some serious food for thought.

You can follow Nick Edmonds on Twitter @NickEdmondsUSC

Johnny’s Pastrami is a West Adams fixture

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imageJohnny’s Pastrami on West Adams Boulevard has been described as a hole in the wall, scary and a “hood” landmark. If you search for it on Yelp, you’ll see a few meager stars and a whole lotta five stars. Whatever you think about the pastrami sandwiches at this South LA stop, there is no denying it’s a neighborhood fixture. Reporter Nick Edmonds paid a visit to see how the half-century eatery is faring.

Johnny’s Pastrami is located at 4331 W Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90018, just east of Crenshaw Boulevard.

Lawsuits filed in the Miramonte scandal

imageAttorney Gregory Owen addresses the media about the alleged crimes of Miramonte Middle School teacher Mark Berndt. Owens explains that some immigrant families of victims are reluctant to testify due to fear of deportation.

Immigration lawyers Jessica Dominguez and Gregory Owen are representing eight victims and their families in a lawsuit regarding the recent crimes that allegedly took place at Miramonte Middle School.

“I’m here to be the voice for the voiceless,” Dominguez said Thursday morning.

The two lawyers teamed up with CHIRLA, the Coalition for Human Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, in an effort to ask the families of victims to step forward and testify.

“Some of our families have been victims of other crimes in the past. They never reported them. They never reported them because they are afraid of being detained by ICE.”

Angelica Salas, the Executive Director of CHIRLA, has made a plea to families to step forward, offering security and sensitivity.

imageRaymundo, an undocumented immigrant and father of one of the alleged victims, speaks to the media about his fear to testify against Berndt. Raymundo kept his face hidden with his hood and sunglasses to protect his identity.

“CHIRLA and many other Latino and civil rights organizations will work arduously to ensure that there is sensitivity on the issues of immigration status throughout this investigation,” Salas said.

Attorney Gregory Owen said that he was shocked that these alleged crimes were able to go on for so long without any parents or faculty members finding out.

“The school has a duty to ensure their safety. . . This guy [Mark Berndt] locked his doors. That violates every school policy. Nobody knew it. Nobody stopped it.”

An undocumented immigrant by the name of Raymundo, a father of one of the alleged victims, braved the media scrutiny to attend the news conference. However, in an effort to protect his identity, he covered most of his face with a hood and dark glasses.

Dominguez translated the father’s statement.

“He’s still fearful that he can end up getting deported. But he wants other parents to be informed that they should protect their children and they should protect their rights.”

Salas called out to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, asking him to promise that the immigrant families who step forward will be safe from deportation. Salas believes that until that promise is made, several families will remain silenced by their own fear.