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Sheriff's captain took inmate on island golf outing, deputy says

April 5, 2012 |  9:02 am

Avalon Harbor in Catalina

Convicted jewel thief Frank Carrillo thought he had hit the lottery when he was transferred from Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles to the tiny jail in the town of Avalon on bucolic Catalina Island.

Then he met Jeff Donahue, the Los Angeles County sheriff’s captain in charge of the department's Avalon force, and life got sweeter.

Donahue wanted a few pointers on his golf swing and thought Carrillo, a former golf pro, could help him. They drove together in a patrol jeep to a hilltop golf course, where Carrillo gave Donahue a free lesson, Carrillo said.

Donahue, Carrillo said in a phone interview, “has this swing that's old school and risky, but he hit it every time. I would probably say he's a 14 or a 15 handicap. Not too bad."

Donahue, now on medical leave, is currently under investigation for an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. The allegations were detailed in a complaint by one of Donahue’s subordinates.

Carrillo, 41, who has since been released, believes it was his charm, record and good behavior that earned him the transfer to Catalina. He initially made headlines for stealing a World Series championship ring from a former Dodger at a charity golf event.

He eventually pleaded guilty to charges related to a string of golf course heists involving cash, Rolex watches and other jewelry valued in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Once ensconced in the island jail, he broached the idea of leaving the station to play some golf. He had a good reputation as a pro golfer in Canada, and Donahue thought it was a good idea.

"I knew it was a crazy thing to say," Carrillo recalled. "But the first thing he said was, 'Maybe I need a few pointers.'"

A deputy at the station, Willian Cordero, complained about the incident and was subsequently transferred off the island. Sheriff's officials are strictly forbidden from fraternizing with inmates. Excursions off site are rarely granted and require special security clearances when they are.

Cordero also alleges Donahue told him the golf outing had been cleared by Sheriff Lee Baca, who had been on the island in July for a charity event.

Carrillo confirmed that account, saying Baca knew him from charity golf tournaments in the past and spoke to him during a tour of the station. The outing came up, Carrillo said, and Baca seemed to approve, characterizing the excursion as "rec time."

Baca's spokesman Steve Whitmore denied Carrillo's recollection.

"They may have said hello, a conversation may have occurred, but Baca never condoned this guy going out and playing golf," Whitmore said. "He would never do that. He would never condone taking a trusty out and having them go play golf."


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-- Robert Faturechi

Photo: A view of Catalina Island's Avalon Harbor. Credit: Christina House / For The Times