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Category: Coliseum

Citing presence of reporters, Coliseum head won't give testimony

Photo: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum interim general manager John Sandbrook, in 2011. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Objecting to the presence of Times reporters, the top manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum refused to answer questions Wednesday and walked out of a deposition in an open-government lawsuit against the stadium's overseers.

Interim General Manager John Sandbrook left the deposition in the suit brought by The Times and a 1st Amendment group. The Times would not agree to his lawyer's demands that it exclude the two reporters or prohibit them from publishing Sandbrook's sworn answers before they are introduced as evidence in a trial.

The suit accuses the governing commission of the taxpayer-owned Coliseum of illegally withholding records from the public and violating state law by conducting months of secret deliberations on a stadium lease with USC. The commission denies the allegations.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A. Coliseum under scrutiny

Sandbrook's attorney, Deborah Fox, said she was suspending the videotaped deposition so she could ask Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin to issue an order banning the reporters from the session. She said their presence was "an attempt to intimidate and harass and annoy" as Sandbrook answered an attorney's questions under oath. Under the deposition rules, the reporters were not allowed to pose questions.

"They should not be able to report on issues that unfold here in this deposition," Fox said.

Times attorney Jeff Glasser, who was to question Sandbrook, said the reporters were entitled to attend the proceeding, held at a downtown law office, and the courts have allowed journalists to observe depositions even if they were not involved in the case at hand. He said any effort to prevent The Times' reporters from publishing material from the Sandbrook deposition would be unconstitutional.

"We are absolutely, 100%, not going to agree to gag our reporters," Glasser said. "This case is all about government transparency."

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Coliseum sues ex-auditor, alleging failure to detect corruption

171238.ME.0322.coliseum03.FO

The financially troubled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission is suing its former auditor for more than $11 million, alleging that it failed to detect errors in financial statements between 2007 and 2011, a time when alleged corruption ensnared the taxpayer-owned agency. L.A. Coliseum sues former auditor

The suit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, says California-based SingerLewak’s “incompetent auditing and accounting services effectively protected the corrupt former employees and promoters.”

“Its grossly insufficient management letters and disclosures to the Coliseum ... left the commissioners ... under the control of the corrupt former management employees,” the lawsuit said.

DOCUMENT: Read the lawsuit

SingerLewak released a statement defending its work: “Our audits were performed properly and with the highest level of professionalism in every respect. We will aggressively defend the allegations in this suit and are confident that the evidence will show the allegations to be false.”

In its lawsuit, the taxpayer-owned Coliseum said that if the audits had been done properly, the commissioners “would have detected that certain former employees were engaged in self-dealing and conflicts of interest."

The allegations refer in part to how a manager allegedly received about $2 million from rave companies to help them stage the dance concerts at the Coliseum and adjacent Sports Arena. That accusation is at the heart of a bribery charge in the corruption scandal. In all, eight people have been charged with wrongdoing, and one has pleaded guilty.

FULL COVERAGE: Coliseum under scrutiny

The Coliseum also said in the lawsuit that it was unaware of the stadium’s delicate financial position. It said that had officials “known the true state of their financial affairs, plaintiffs would not have agreed to certain terms” in its 2008 promise to USC to invest tens of millions of dollars in upgrades to renovate the stadium.

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Join Los Angeles Times for live chat on rave story at 2:30 p.m.

Join the Los Angeles Times for a live video chat at 2:30 p.m. PST to discuss Sunday's rave story. Please tune in on our Spreecast channel if the above video is over capacity.

Citing coroners' records and law enforcement reports, The Times reported Sunday that at least 14 people who attended concerts produced by two Los Angeles rave promoters since 2006 have died from overdoses or in other drug-related incidents.

The story focused on Insomniac Inc., led by Pasquale Rotella, considered within the industry as the nation’s leading rave promoter, and Go Ventures Inc., headed by Reza Gerami. Both men once had their largest raves in Los Angeles, but in 2012, they were indicted on bribery and other charges in connection with bribing a manager at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and adjoining Sports Arena to keep a lid on concert costs, such as expenses for security.

TIMES INVESTIGATION: Read the full story

The report cited deep concerns about these events from law enforcement and health officials, who describe hospitals being overwhelmed by severely ill overdose victims on a scale not seen in any other type of concerts or sporting events. The events attract tens of thousands of attendees.  

Ecstasy can cause temperatures to spike in the body to as high as 108 degrees, and according to physicians, can cause organs to essentially melt and multi-organ system failure.

GRAPHIC: Read about the 14 dead

After the article ran, Rotella’s company defended the concerts and criticized the story. In a statement, Insomniac did not address the deaths specifically but said the story sought to "twist facts" and "turned everyone who enjoys electronic music events into villains."

"At Insomniac, we aim to create inspiring environments where you don't need drugs to have a wonderful, spiritual experience," the statement said. "Behind the scenes, we work long hours with the brightest security, health and safety experts in the business to create safe environments for you."

ALSO:

Profiles of the 14 who died

A fatal toll on concertgoers as raves boost cities’ income

Rave producer Insomniac defends concerts, criticizes Times

-- Times staff

Coliseum: Soboroff says state should keep parking lots from USC

Edgar Esparza, 10, left, hikes an inflatable shuttle to Jasmyne Cabrera as they play football in a parking lot near the California Science Center as hundreds gather to watch the arrival of the Space Shuttle Endeavor on Oct. 13. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Steve Soboroff, the wealthy developer and civic leader, says the state should reject a proposed deal that would give USC a long-term lease of parking lots used by three public museums neighboring the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Soboroff said Wednesday that USC's proposal to assume management of the parking areas as part of the private university's plan to take control of the Coliseum could be "the end of the museums."

USC wants the option to use the lots for its students and employees. That could deny museum visitors parking, Soboroff said.

"That parking belongs to the people of the state of California, and to those three museums," he said.

He also expressed concerns that USC would be able to dictate parking prices, asserting that even a small increase could dramatically reduce the number of museum patrons.

"To have it in the hands of a university versus in the hands of a public body, I don't think that's the right thing," said Soboroff, a former mayoral candidate and Coliseum commissioner. He called for a new agreement that would keep control of the parking the hands of the taxpayers.

The publicly owned Coliseum shares Exposition Park with the California Science Center, the California African American Museum and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, all of which use the state-owned lots.

Soboroff is a major booster of the Science Center, serving as a special advisor for the project to bring the space shuttle Endeavour to the state-run museum. He also was a prime mover behind Staples Center and the Alameda transportation corridor, a 20-mile freight expressway linking the port to transcontinental rail lines.

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After drug complaints, Insomniac moves rave out of San Bernardino

Fans listen to Nas at the Rock the Bells festival at the San Manuel Amphitheater on Aug. 20, 2011. Beyond Wonderland is being moved there from the National Orange Show Events Center. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

After complaints about drug use and noise, Insomniac Inc., a Los Angeles rave company, is moving its Beyond Wonderland rave out from its longtime home in San Bernardino, but some neighbors of the new venue were angry about the change.

La-me-rave-san-bernardino-gInsomniac decided to shift the March 16 rave from the National Orange Show Events Center near downtown San Bernardino to the San Bernardino County-owned San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore after tensions with Police Chief Robert Handy and residents. It stages at least two other raves a year at the events center.

Handy said the raves have been marred by increases in crime, along with drug and alcohol abuse among concert-goers. He said undercover officers who attend the raves are routinely offered drugs for sale.

TIMES INVESTIGATION: A fatal toll on concertgoers as raves boost cities' income

In September, an officer was injured while trying to arrest a suspected Ecstasy dealer at an Insomniac rave, the chief added. He also said Insomniac refused a police request to lower the music volume at an October rave after neighbors complained.

"That's where we reached the impasse," Handy said. "They said, 'We will do what we have to do to continue to make a profit,'" Handy said.

Insomniac spokeswoman Jennifer Forkish denied that the company is relocating Beyond Wonderland because of poor relations with the city. She said in an email response to questions that Handy's statements about the October concert were "categorically untrue."

GRAPHIC: Read about 14 ravegoers who died in drug-related circumstances

"We are left to believe that the police chief must have been misinformed," Forkish said. "His comments are his personal perspective based upon secondhand information [that] in no way reflects what occurs at our festivals."

The County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 last week to allow raves at the amphitheater for the first time. County officials said the venue manager, Live Nation Entertainment Inc., the Beverly Hills-based concert and ticketing giant, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department would deploy extra security staff and sheriff's deputies to keep the concert safe and orderly.

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Rave producer Insomniac defends concerts, criticizes Times

 

A concert company featured in a Times report Sunday detailing the drug-related deaths of 14 people who attended raves denounced the story in an online statement and took to social media to urge fans to speak out.

The statement by L.A.-based Insomniac Inc., posted on the company's website and the Instagram account of company head Pasquale Rotella, did not address the deaths specifically but said the story sought to "twist facts" and "turned everyone who enjoys electronic music events into villains."

"At Insomniac, we aim to create inspiring environments where you don't need drugs to have a wonderful, spiritual experience," the statement said. "Behind the scenes, we work long hours with the brightest security, health and safety experts in the business to create safe environments for you."

TIMES INVESTIGATION: Read the full report

Citing coroners' findings and law enforcement records, The Times reported that most of the deaths resulted from overdoses of Ecstasy and similar designer drugs tightly connected with raves. The deaths occurred during or shortly after 64 concerts produced separately or together by Rotella and another L.A. impresario, Reza Gerami, since 2006.

Rotella and Gerami declined to be interviewed for the story.

In the statement, Insomniac said its staff searches rave attendees and takes other measures to keep drugs out of its concerts: "Even with all of our precautions, every single person who comes to our events is responsible for their choices." The statement also said "Ecstasy is a global problem."

GRAPHIC: Read more about the 14 deaths

Those sentiments were echoed in hundreds of comments, emails and social media postings.

In a tweet directed at The Times, @ethanbruns1 said, "because a person making a decision to ingest certain substances of their own accord is the organizers fault? #REALLY."

"Raves don't kill people, stupidity kills people," tweeted @TodayWasADay1.

A tweet from @edmmaniac said, "there's nothing positive in your articles."

But an email from a reader who identified herself as the mother of a drug addict said, "I would like to commend you for bringing this issue out in the open.... The death toll from these events is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to make the public aware of the nuisance these events bring."

 

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L.A. Now Live: Some raves have proved tragic; worth the revenue?

L.A. Times reporter Paul Pringle will join L.A. NOW Live at 9 a.m. to discuss an investigation into large rave events produced by Pasquale Rotella, considered within the industry as the nation's leading rave promoter.

Since 2006, at least 14 people who attended concerts produced by Rotella and Reza Gerami, another prominent Los Angeles-based impresario, have died from overdoses or in other drug-related incidents, a Times investigation has found.

GRAPHIC: Read more about the 14 deaths

These days, raves fill fairgrounds, basketball arenas and football stadiums. Their audiences are no longer a few hundred revelers but tens of thousands.

As raves have moved into the mainstream, there have been more tragedies across the country.

According to an analysis of coroners' and law enforcement reports from nine states, most of the deaths were linked to Ecstasy or similar designer drugs — hallucinogens tightly bound with raves.

Raves: Records show deadly toll of drugs among concertgoers

At least 14 people who attended raves produced by two Los Angeles-based promoters since 2006 died from overdoses or in other drug-related incidents, a Times investigation has found. 

The deaths occurred during or shortly after concerts produced separately or jointly by Pasquale Rotella and Reza Gerami, according to an analysis of coroners' reports and law enforcement records from nine states.

Most of the deaths were linked to Ecstasy or similar designer drugs — hallucinogens tightly bound with raves, the analysis found.

TIMES INVESTIGATION: Read the full report

Despite warnings of drug risks from law enforcement and health officials, the raves staged by Rotella's firm, Insomniac Inc., and Gerami's Go Ventures Inc. have received the blessing of local governments hungry for the revenue they deliver.

"It pretty well fills all the local hotels," said Judge Dave Barkemeyer, who issued a permit for a Rotella rave in Milam County, Texas. "It brings in a fair amount of commerce."

But with the revenue has come the risk of fatal overdoses.

GRAPHIC: Read more about the 14 who died

Most of the dead were in their teens and early 20s, according to records. The youngest was 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez, who overdosed at Rotella's 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Rotella and Gerami have been indicted on bribery and other charges in connection with their concerts at the Coliseum and adjoining Sports Arena. According to prosecutors, the pair made about $2 million in illicit payments to a Coliseum executive to keep a lid on the cost of their concerts. They have pleaded not guilty.

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State says L.A. Coliseum has breached lease

Los Angeles Coliseum

The financially troubled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission has breached its lease contract with the state by failing to pay $500,000 in rent due at the end of the year, California officials said.

The declaration, which became public Tuesday, came as the latest sign of fiscal distress for the Coliseum, a taxpayer-owned stadium that is at risk for running out of money by the end of March.

The Coliseum's landlord, the California Science Center –- the museum that recently acquired the space shuttle Endeavour –- informed the stadium of its contract breach in a letter hand delivered Monday.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A. Coliseum under scrutiny

The rent goes to pay for public safety and maintenance of Exposition Park, state-owned land that is home to the Coliseum and several museums. The rent also supports the Science Center and the California African American Museum.

It was immediately unclear what the failure to pay the rent means for the management of the Coliseum.

The lease agreement between the state and the Coliseum says that if a breach of the lease is not corrected after two years' written notice, the state can force the Coliseum Commission to surrender the stadium to the state.

The Coliseum Commission, aware of its financial problems, has been trying to hand over day to day management of the stadium to USC. But the proposal has stalled.

The chairman of the California Science Center has opposed USC's demands for control of parking lots surrounding the stadium as a condition for taking over the stadium. The state's Legislative Black Caucus also opposes the parking lot deal.

RELATED:

Coliseum panel misses $500,000 rental payment to state

Legislature's black caucus objects to parts of USC-Coliseum deal

USC would gain control of taxpayer-owned parking lots under proposal

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Black lawmakers ask state to reject parts of Coliseum-USC deal

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The California Legislative Black Caucus voiced strong opposition over parts of a deal that would allow USC to run the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Letter: Black caucus opposes parts of USC-Coliseum dealThe lawmakers said they support the idea of USC managing the Coliseum, where the school's football team plays, But object to the inclusion of nearby parking lots they say should be turned into parks in the South Los Angeles neighborhood. USC demanded the parking lots as part of the management agreement.

"Your role is not to be boosters for the USC football program," said the letter from the caucus to Robert Stein, chairman of the California Science Center board, which owns the parking lots and the land on which the Coliseum and several museums sit, collectively known as Exposition Park.

DOCUMENT: Read the black caucus' letter

"This proposal is an affront .... Giving up control of the parking lots virtually gives away control of the park, which is totally unacceptable," the letter said.

Newly elected Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles) is a caucus member whose district includes the Coliseum. He noted that surrendering the parking lots would break a two-decade-old promise made by the state to eventually convert unused lots surrounding the Coliseum complex into green space for a neighborhood that sorely lacks parks.

"When the entire Legislative Black Caucus looks at the parking lots, we see green space. We see families. We see picnics. We see soccer fields," said Jones-Sawyer, formerly Los Angeles City Hall's top expert on real estate issues.

DOCUMENT: Read the 1992 master plan calling for more parks at Exposition Park

The group also opposes an element of the deal that would allow USC to also control the aging Sports Arena, part of the Coliseum property that could be razed for a potentially lucrative soccer stadium. The deal envisions the university taking over the sports venues for up to 99 years.

Exposition Park Master Plan"As drafted, it appears that the board would give up all oversight of future plans if a soccer stadium is to be built. Might that soccer stadium also include a shopping mall, student housing, USC offices?" the caucus wrote.

The caucus rejected an assertion written into the deal that if the Coliseum Commission, which currently governs the stadium complex, goes out of business, the state will be on the hook for $70 million in upgrades. The commission promised to make the improvements in a lease signed with USC in 2008. The complex is operated jointly by the state, county and city.

FULL COVERAGE: Coliseum under scrutiny

State Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood), vice chair of the caucus, said the Coliseum's governing charter protects the state from the stadium's debts. "I really doubt that we're going to lay off teachers and take services away from poor people so that we can fund a football stadium for a private school," he said.

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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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