Ex-official pleads guilty in LA Coliseum probe

March 28, 2012 - 9:55 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The former general manager of the taxpayer-owned Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum entered a surprise guilty plea Wednesday to a conflict-of-interest charge in a yearlong investigation of alleged mismanagement at the historic stadium.

Patrick Lynch, standing before a judge in a blue jail uniform with his hands cuffed, answered "guilty" in a nearly inaudible voice when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomela asked for his plea.

Lynch agreed to pay back $385,000 that prosecutors say he received in a side deal on Coliseum maintenance contracts. The payment is due in 45 days.

Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman indicated outside court that Lynch's agreement to quickly pay full restitution of such a large amount played a key role in the plea agreement.

"It's something I've never seen a defendant do," he said.

Lawyers for others charged in the case said outside court they expect to call Lynch as a witness during their clients' trial.

Lynch, another former Coliseum executive, two rave promoters and two contractors were named in a 29-count grand jury indictment alleging schemes involving bribery, embezzlement, conspiracy and conflict of interest.

Lynch, who managed the Coliseum for 17 years, pleaded guilty to only one of six felony counts against him and will serve no jail time under the agreement. He will complete 1,500 hours of community service and possibly pay additional fines.

After he serves three years of probation, he will be eligible to apply to reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor, according to the plea agreement.

The judge told Lynch he will no longer be allowed to hold a position of public trust.

The indictment alleged Lynch had a lucrative side deal with a maintenance services provider, Antonio Estrada. The conflict of interest charge states that between July 2006 and November 2010, Lynch became involved in making a contract in which he had a financial interest.

Outside court, Lynch's attorney, Anthony Capozzola, portrayed Lynch as a victim of his friendship with Estrada.

"The person responsible for this whole situation, a guy named Tony Estrada, has skipped," he said.

Estrada is believed to be out of the country, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

"My client got a very fair sentence," Capozzola said.

Pronouncement of Lynch's sentence was delayed until after the trial of his codefendants, including Todd DeStefano, Pasquale Rotella and Reza Gerami. Another defendant, coliseum technical manager Leopold Caudillo Jr., was returning from a trip out of the country and was expected to surrender.

Gary Kaufman, who represents Rotella, said Lynch's plea gives him the opportunity to call Lynch as a witness on Rotella's behalf.

"I fully expect that his truthful testimony will help to exonerate Mr. Rotella, who has done nothing wrong," Kaufman said.

Attorney Michael Nasatir echoed that comment regarding DeStefano and added, "I'm gratified that Mr. Lynch is going to receive no jail time, because nobody in this case deserves to go to jail."

DeStefano, who produced Coliseum events, is charged with receiving more than $1.8 million from Gerami and Rotella, who are promoters of electronic music festivals or raves that were held at the Coliseum.

The stadium, built in 1923, has been the scene of historic events including the 1932 and 1984 Olympics.

The Coliseum's management came under scrutiny after a teenage girl died of a drug overdose following a rave concert there.

In Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown was asked whether he planned to take any action against the head of the Coliseum Commission, who is a state appointee.

"I did appoint someone. ... I will review that. If action is warranted, I'll take it," Brown said. But he said he was not ready to act yet.