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2 ex-Coliseum workers plead not guilty to embezzlement, conspiracy

January 7, 2013 |  6:10 pm

Two former employees of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum pleaded not guilty Monday to theft and conspiracy charges in their first court appearance since being charged last month by city prosecutors.

Ulises Luna, 33, and former payroll clerk Maria De La Torre, 38, were accused by the Los Angeles city attorney's office of stealing Coliseum funds by cashing falsified salary checks. In all, eight people have been charged in the corruption scandal at the historic stadium.

Luna and De La Torre each face five misdemeanor counts of grand theft, embezzlement, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and passing a forged document. They also are accused of one count each of illegally possessing a check.

If convicted on all charges, they could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in county jail and be required to pay restitution.

De La Torre was arrested last May in the district attorney's felony case, but then the case was referred to the city attorney, which prosecutes misdemeanors, authorities said. 

Prosecutors allege that De La Torre issued checks and split proceeds with Luna after he was laid off a year ago from his job at the coliseum.

In all, Luna collected at least 10 checks totaling nearly $4,000 between January and April of last year, according to the criminal complaint. Luna was laid off in December 2011. De La Torre later resigned and has repaid $1,500 to the Coliseum, prosecutors said.

In March, three former Coliseum managers, two prominent concert promoters and a stadium contractor were indicted on numerous felony counts in an L.A. County district attorney's investigation. The probe followed reports in The Times of financial irregularities at the taxpayer-owned stadium and companion Sports Arena.

In the felony case, the six defendants are charged in a broad corruption scheme involving alleged bribery, embezzlement, kickbacks and conflicts of interest. Former Coliseum General Manager Patrick Lynch, who ran the stadium for 17 years, has pleaded guilty in an arrangement with prosecutors to avoid jail. He was charged with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from the janitorial contractor, Tony Estrada.

Additionally, former stadium events manager Todd DeStefano, ex-technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr., and concert promoters Pasquale Rotella and Reza Gerami have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Estrada is a fugitive.

The district attorney's investigation was launched in February 2011 after The Times, citing records and interviews, disclosed financial dealings between DeStefano and Rotella, head of Insomniac Inc., which staged rave concerts at the Coliseum. Additional Times reports focused on payments to DeStefano by Gerami and questionable financial practices by other stadium employees.

The disclosures led to audits by the Coliseum Commission and city controller's office. The state Fair Political Practices Commission also opened an inquiry into DeStefano, and federal authorities are investigating large cash payments made by Coliseum managers to a union representative for worker salaries.

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-- Andrew Blankstein, Rong-Gong Lin II and Paul Pringle

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