Police Search Bank Records at the Center of Green Party Controversy
By Jorge Casuso
July 18 -- A police investigation into Councilman Michael Feinstein’s alleged misappropriation of Green Party funds suggests that the former mayor used “at least part” of a $10,000 donation to the County Green Party “for non-Green Party business,” according to a search warrant and affidavit returned to the court clerk Friday.
The warrant, which has been served by Santa Monica Police to the Kinceta Federal Credit Union, requests records -- including withdrawal and deposit slips, cancelled checks and electronic transfers -- from the account where Feinstein deposited a $10,000 check donated by Bill Pietz in January 2001.
Police are seeking the bank records because there is "probable cause" to believe that the property sought "tends to show that a felony has been committed or that a particular person has committed a felony," according to the search warrant signed June 23 by Superior Court Judge Bernard Kamins.
“I believe the requested account records… will either show evidence tending to establish that Councilperson Feinstein misappropriated funds designated for Green Party usage for non-Green Party purposes, in violation of section 503 of the California Penal Code (embezzlement) as alleged… or will support his claim that the funds were used for legitimate Green Party business," Lt. Mike Beautz wrote in the affidavit.
Feinstein contends that the money was used to rent and operate the Green Party office at 2809 Pico Boulevard that he opened in 1999 with the blessing of the State Green Party. But he has refused to turn the bank records over to County Green Party officials, saying they have no jurisdiction over the office.
"Despite repeated requests for an accounting of the use of the funds, Councilperson Feinstein has never produced any detailed or written accounting of how he used the funds," Beautz wrote.
Lt. Frank Fabrega, the police department spokesman, said he did not know if the credit union had turned over the requested documents, but he cautioned that bank account records often take time to obtain.
"The bank has been served and will comply," Fabrega said. "Bank records are very slow to come."
The bank documents will likely be taken to the District Attorney's Office, which would go over all the evidence before deciding whether to file charges, Fabrega said.
"I would imagine that the first place the records will go is to the DA," Fabrega said. "The DA will review all the records, documents and reports and then determine whether to file charges."
The investigation by the Santa Monica Police Department's Audit and Inspection Unit was spurred by a crime report filed in March by Bob Morris, the former treasurer for the County Green Party.
Morris told police that Pietz donated the $10,000 check to conduct Green Party of Los Angeles County (GPLAC) "business such as voter registration, printing pamphlets and brochures, and funding for candidate searches," according to the affidavit.
Instead, Morris said, the money was used to fund the office on Pico, which "was not solely a GPLAC enterprise," but was used "for a variety of interests and organizations affiliated with or supported by Councilperson Feinstein," according to the affidavit.
"Morris said that some un-staffed desk space was being used by GPLAC inside the location, but office space… was being paid for and occupied by other non-Green Party groups, such as 'Ballona Wetland Land Trust,' 'Earth Save L.A.,' 'Woodcraft Rangers,' and a variety of Green party Candidates for campaigning purposes," the affidavit said.
Morris provided police with a lease agreement dated February 3, 2002 that showed the county party rented office space for $500 a month from Feinstein's Green Issues Coalition, a Political Action Committee Morris said had been denied non-profit status, according to the affidavit.
Morris also provided copies of five cancelled checks issued by the GPLAC to the Green Issues Coalition to pay rent at the Pico office, which the county party used rent-free for the better part of three years.
"All the checks were endorsed on the back by Councilperson Feinstein under the hand-written heading, 'Green Issues Coalition,'" according to the affidavit. "Two of the checks were deposited into a Bank of America account, while three others were signed over to Barrios Unidos," which was leasing the space to Feinstein based on a verbal agreement.
"Councilperson Feinstein confirmed that Pietz's $10,000 check was deposited into his credit union account and that, in March 2001, it was used to pay a five month advance payment against a one year lease, at $2,000 per month, for an office at 2809 Pico Blvd.," the affidavit said.
"Councilperson Feinstein's later acceptance (beginning January 2001), on behalf of his PAC Green Issues Coalition (of) several five hundred dollar monthly lease payments from GPLAC, indicates that GPLAC's share of lease at the location was only $500," the affidavit said.
"This establishes that the office space at 2809 Pico was not being leased solely on behalf of GPLAC or the Green party in March 2001, suggesting that Councilperson Feinstein used at least part of the $10,000, donated by Bill Pietz specifically to GPLAC, for non-Green Party business."
Morris also filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is currently investigating the civil case. The state agency, which regulates campaign funding, does not comment on pending cases.
The $10,000 check is at the center of an ongoing controversy that has embroiled the local and State Green parties since August 2001. For an in-depth account visit the five-part series in The Lookout.SPECIAL REPORT: SHADES OF GREEN
PART I: The Sacrificial Gift
PART II: Growing Pains
PART III: Green Candidate
PART IV: Tempest in a Teapot?
PART V: Party of One?
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