Sunday, September 30, 2012

Carmen Trutanich accused of extortion, threats and thuggery to dodge debts

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's failed campaign to become District Attorney cost over $1.8M, but left the former ambulance chaser slip-and-fall lawyer in third place and perhaps even worse, facing a pile of debts. On Thursday, September 27, 2012 Trutanich took the unusual step of suing his former campaign manager, John Shallman, in what many believe to be a 'thuggish' attempt to avoid paying those debts.

In court papers filed by Trutanich, he blames Shallman for losing the election due to 'negligence and missteps.' The lawsuit, however, does not claim any damages or losses as a result of Trutanich's humiliating defeat. Once considered the 'frontrunner,' Trutanich assured his supporters that he would 'Win this thing [the election] in the primary.' However, in the June 5, 2012 primary election for Los Angeles District Attorney, Trutanich lost what KABC 790AM talk show host Doug McIntyre described as 'a Hindenburg-like campaign' finishing a remote third and excluding him from the runoff election.

Despite raising more than double the money of his opponents, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, and boasting a slew of political endorsements including Governor Jerry Brown, 78% of voters resoundingly rejected Trutanich's candidacy. At his inaptly named 'Victory Party' in his native San Pedro on election night, Trutanich hid from the thinning crowd of supporters as the electoral results came in spelling disaster for the him.

When Trutanich ultimately emerged from hiding to address those supporters who remained, Trutanich blithely blamed the media for his defeat. Now, it seems, Trutanich is blaming his campaign manager for that defeat. Blaming others for his failures appears to be a consistent theme with Trutanich; when faced with a slew of expensive trial losses that cost the City of Los Angeles millions of dollars, Trutanich blamed his deputies for being 'inexperienced,' 'missing deadlines' and 'other blunders.'
Last year, Trutanich lost a string of simple trespass cases against the Occupy LA protesters and blamed the LAPD Officers for 'paperwork errors.'

When he was unable to substantiate claims that he had been 'surrounded and shot at by gangmembers' he blamed District Attorney Steve Cooley for engaging in 'suspicious political activity,' arising from the loss of his personnel file.
Regardless of where the blame lies for Trutanich's downfall, the reality is that he faces a $166,000 campaign debt, and the failure to pay off that debt will further diminish any remote chance he has to be re-elected as City Attorney in March 2013.

Many political experts believe that unpaid campaign debt often renders a candidate such as Trutanich vulnerable to accusations of being 'fiscally irresponsible' and 'a deadbeat who does not pay his debts.'

Candidates faced with campaign debt often write a personal check to cover their debts or seek additional fundraising to 'retire' the debt. Indeed, after his 2009 campaign to become City Attorney, Trutanich successfully held a series of fundraisers to 'retire' around $170k of accumulated debt.
Trutanich is not, apparently, seeking to 'retire' this debt through fundraising. This is likely a reflection of his failing popularity and the perception former supporters now have of Trutanich as a loser. 'It's hard to find people to write fresh checks once you've been tatted with the big scarlet "L" for "Loser,"' Doug McIntyre recently said of Trutanich.

Trutanich is also, seemingly, unable or unwilling to write a personal check to clear his campaign debt. Trutanich recently faced a similar situation over his $100k debt to LA's BEST – an after-school program for underprivileged kids. That debt arose from his failure to honor his 'Pledge to Serve,' a promise he made not to use the City Attorney's office as a political springboard to higher office. Trutanich first claimed he did not own any money at all because the 'Pledge to Serve' was a na├»ve campaign gimmick. He then claimed he was 'Not a rich guy,' despite earning over $214k a year. Ultimately Trutanich paid ten cents in the dollar to LA's BEST, and delivered a bunch of 'pledges' or 'IOUs' to pay off the rest over then next three years.

But with regard to the $166,000 owed to Shallman, Trutanich has chosen a different tactic. He apparently tried to negotiate with Shallman, with former State Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg acting as middle-man. Hertzberg, a former Trutanich supporter had served as Chair of Trutanich's Transition Team and was surprised when Trutanich filed a lawsuit against Shallman without telling him. Accusing Trutanich of 'Thuggery' Hertzberg said he was shocked that Trutanich went behind his back and filed suit without telling him. 'It's unethical behavior. It sickens me,' Hertzberg told the LA Weekly, 'This is as low as it gets. It's all for gamesmanship. It's just not honest.' He said.

Shallman told the LA Weekly that Trutanich was an 'extortionist' and accused him of a 'back-alley shakedown' saying that Trutanich owes him $166,000, which he said has been fully documented. He further alleged that Trutanich is trying to renege on that obligation by publicizing 'false and vindictive attacks against me and my family,' adding that 'There is truly no depth too low for this man to stoop. He has no shame and is a disgrace to the City of Los Angeles.'

Campaign Strategist John Thomas, who runs Alan Jackson's campaign which successfully ousted Trutanich from the DA race said 'attempting to blame his political loss on his former consultant and then using legal threats to run away from his financial obligations is not only fiscally irresponsible, it borders on reckless behavior. This is certainly not becoming of an elected official.' He said.

In a statement to the LA Times describing Trutanich's lawsuit as 'frivolous,' Shallman gave further details of the alleged extortion. 'Trutanich's extortion attempt came last [Wednesday] night, from a lawyer for his failed campaign for district attorney. He offered to drop the lawsuit and keep his false allegations quiet if I completely forgive his debt. If I did not acquiesce to his illegal demand -- and thereby agree to an illegal campaign contribution -- he threatened to continue this thuggish attempt to drag my own, and my wife's, reputations through the mud. Well, the only way to deal with a thug is to stand up to him. And that's what I intend to do,' Shallman told the LA Times.

A spokesperson for Trutanich attempted to justify the lawsuit telling the LA Weekly that Trutanich is owed a 'complete accounting' of the money he paid for this campaign. 'It sounds to me as if John Shallman and his representative, Bob Hertzberg, would like the public to believe that they're the injured party. No, they're not the injured party. Carmen Trutanich is the injured party.'

Trutanich's claim to be the 'injured party' is sure to draw a wry smile on the faces of those who recall the last time Trutanich claimed to be a victim; the centerpiece of Trutanich's campaigns, both the 2009 City Attorney campaign and the failed 2012 District Attorney campaign both portrayed Trutanich as a fearless crime-fighter who had been 'surrounded and shot at by gangmembers.' In the weeks before the primary election, the LA Times exclusively revealed that claim to be false.

The public outrage over Trutanich's false and frankly implausible claim to have been the victim of a violent crime where he was surrounded and shot at by gangmembers, yet suffered no injury and did not report the crime to police is widely believed to have been the single largest cause of his downfall.

Trutanich previously tried to blame Shallman for what has become known as the AssassinationGate scandal, telling the LA Times 'that it was not his idea to make the Green Meadows Park incident part of his campaign, but that one of his election strategists learned about what had happened from Bell and asked to use it.' Trutanich failed to mention why, if he objected to the use of this implausibly tall tale, he did not object to its use in his 2009 campaign, and why he had told the tale to many over the years.

It remains to be seen whether Trutanich's most recent attempt to characterize himself as a 'victim' or 'injured party' will fare any better than his last attempt. John Thomas perhaps sums up the reality of both the election defeat and the debt dispute 'Mr. Trutanich lost because he has integrity issues. Plain and simple. Voters want someone they can trust.' Mr. Trutanich, lost in the court of public opinion over his election, it seems, will have to deal with similar issues in a court of law over his debts.


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