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Steve Lopez: The sheriff and D.A. trip over Shaquille O'Neal

August 9, 2011 |  2:11 pm

Shaquille O'Neal Steve Lopez

Here's a question about the rank, smoldering dud of a kidnapping case that involved former Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal and got dumped today by an L.A. Superior Court judge: What in tarnation were the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and the L.A. County district attorney's office thinking?

A former gang member named Robert Ross claimed he'd been kidnapped in 2008 and beaten by gangsters who demanded an alleged sex tape starring none other than O'Neal. Ross claimed he was owed money by O'Neal in a disputed record deal, and if Shaq didn't pay up, Ross planned to release the sex tape.

The first of many problems was that Ross -- a felon with a long record -- didn't produce the sex tape, and later admitted he never had such a tape.

A smart cop or prosecutor might have wondered at that point if any such tape ever existed.

Personally, I had my doubts, because when celebrities have sex tapes, I'm always thinking the whole point is for them to be "accidentally" or "unintentionally" released.

Come on, O'Neal just retired from the NBA. He needs a second career.

I'm surprised Sheriff Lee Baca, who seems to enjoy contact with celebrities, didn't take a closer look at this loser early on, hold his nose, and tell his staff to spend their time more productively. And was Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley on vacation when his staff looked at this dog and thought it was worth trotting into court?

A month ago, on July 13, we learned that Ross had been classified by the LAPD early in 2010 as an "undesirable informant."

So does that mean that in a high-profile case, neither the Sheriff's Department nor the D.A.'s office ever bothered to check with the LAPD? If they had, they would have known that an LAPD detective had written a memo suggesting Ross had a "personal vendetta" against fellow gang members, and also that "It became apparent that Ross was attempting to extort money from" Shaquille O'Neal.

The detective also wrote: "Ross has proven to be a sophisticated career criminal who will attempt to align himself with a law enforcement agency to gain a sense of protection against those in the criminal community whom he had crossed."

I can't say I was surprised, and in the interest of full disclosure, a friend and former Times colleague has represented O'Neal on this case, and I've talked to him about it several times.

Some cases are rock-solid, some are wobblers, and some are obvious losers from Day One, and you'd like to think cops and prosecutors can tell the difference before wasting public money and resources.

Better late than never, I suppose. Today in court, as The Times has reported, charges against the alleged kidnappers were dropped by Judge M.L. Villar de Longoria after Deputy Dist. Atty. Hoon Chun said there was "cause for concern" about the credibility of Ross.

Yeah, no kidding.


Man says he was kidnapped over Shaquille O'Neal sex tape

Judge dumps kidnapping case with alleged ties to Shaquille O’Neal

Alleged kidnapping victim spoke of connections to Shaquille O’Neal

-- Steve Lopez

Photo: Shaquille O'Neal. Credit: Lynne Sladky / Associated Press