Public Defender: DA Investigator Involved in Kickback Scheme

A court document filed by the Orange County public defender's office asserts that the district attorney declined to file charges in an alleged kickback scheme involving high school coaches and a sports equipment supplier apparently because a top DA investigator was involved in similar “criminal activity” with the same company.

The allegation follows the DA's office decision to not file charges against three Capistrano Unified School District coaches allegedly involved in a kickback scheme with Laguna Hills-based Lapes Athletic Team Sales. An earlier investigation by Capistrano Unified found that the coaches accepted bribes from the company and stole more than $80,000 from the district.

“The District Attorney’s Office has failed to pursue the matter despite sufficient evidence, giving rise to the appearance of protecting its own,” Deputy Public Defender Adam Vining stated in a motion filed last month.

The DA's office says Vining's assertions are baseless.

Vining filed the motion as part of the defense of Kirk Lotzgesell, a former Buena Park police officer facing a felony grand theft charge for allegedly stealing more than $60,000 from the Orange County Cop Bowl when he served as treasurer from 2007 to 2009.

Vining alleges in his motion that DA Investigator Rick Bradley took part in his own “illegal kickback scheme” with Lapes Athletic Team Sales in 2007, when he was president of the Cop Bowl, a law enforcement football league.

Because of Bradley's alleged actions, Vinning argues, Lotzgesell's case should be transferred to the state attorney general for prosecution.

"Bradley was the lead fraud investigator during the time of the [Lapes] scandal," Vining wrote in his motion. "If Mr. Bradley had allowed the district attorney’s case to move forward, further information would have been revealed which would have shown that he received items from Lapes Athletic in an unethical and illegal manner."

He added: "these facts and circumstances give rise to the appearance of a cover-up within the Office of the District Attorney.”

The DA’s office strongly denied Vining's allegations.

“In order to defend the criminal actions of their client, the public defender made these unfounded, inflammatory accusations that are misleading and completely unrelated to the charges against their client,” the DA’s office wrote in a statement.

“There is no cover-up associated with this case,” said Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Henderson, who heads the major fraud unit.

The DA’s Office is expected to file a response in court on Thursday.

Bradley, in his role as president of the Cop Bowl, received “thousands of dollars” of free sporting goods from Lapes Athletic Team Sales in 2007, yet still collected checks for the equipment from team members, Vining wrote.

To support his case, Vining cites company documents suggesting that more than $2,000 of equipment was provided to Bradley at “N/C,” or “no charge.”

“It would appear to any objective person that the OCDA’s integrity has been compromised on this case," Vining wrote.

The DA's office, meanwhile, noted that it was Bradley himself who reported Lotzgesell’s alleged crime to authorities.

“As an officer of the charitable organization, Mr. Bradley was the one who originally reported this case to the Brea Police Department,” according to the DA's statement.

As PBS SoCal and Voice of OC first reported last year, Bill Lapes, the founder of Lapes Athletic Team Sales, is accused of orchestrating an elaborate slush fund and bribery scheme involving dozens of high school coaches across Southern California. Lapes allegedly siphoned off a portion of purchases into secret “slush” accounts from which he would write checks to coaches.

All told, Capistrano Unified asserted that its coaches violated nine state and federal laws, including embezzlement, defrauding the district and circumventing open bidding requirements. Despite the school district's findings, the DA's office declined to prosecute the case.

Henderson said her decision not to prosecute came down to a determination that no crimes were committed. “We did not see it as a criminal fraud involving people that were stealing money for their own benefit,” explained Henderson.

“You have to look beyond the two sentence allegation and determine factually what’s the nature of [the alleged] fraud,” she added. “Who profited? What was the promise made?

“If [the coaches] bought stuff and used it for the team, then that’s not really stealing,” said Henderson.

As for the claims that Bradley received free equipment from Lapes, Henderson said, “I don’t know anything about that.” At this point it’s “just an allegation,” she said.

Vining said there is ample evidence showing Bradley's involvement with Lapes.

“Business records of Lapes Athletics establish that Mr. Bradley engaged in the same activity as the coaches,” Vining wrote.

Vining also recently sought files from the DA that he alleges show further evidence of Bradley’s illegal involvement with Lapes. The DA's office declined to disclose the records.

“Concerning the Lapes investigation that you have requested, it is our position that your request falls outside the scope of our discovery obligations,” wrote Deputy District Attorney Daniel Underwood.

A hearing on the motion is set for Oct. 30.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/nicholasgerda.

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