The Future of LA Is in Our Hands — No Excuses for Failing to Vote for Reform of City Hall

In 2007, Wendy Greuel, Tom LaBonge, Bernard Parks, Herb Wesson and Greig Smith all ran unopposed in the March City Council primary — proof positive of the electorate’s hopelessness, defeatism and apathy.

Only 7 to 13 percent of registered voters bothered to even cast ballots. The incumbents and insiders who did face challenges got less than two-thirds of the votes, barely half in one case.

We’ve come a long way in four years.

With the City Council primary just eight days away, every one of the six incumbents faces serious challenges as does the anointed insider in the one open seat.

Today, there is genuine hope that candidates who have integrity and honesty, who are committed to solving the worsening budget crisis and restoring core services like parks and libraries can overcome the millions in special interest money poured into the preserving the failed City Hall machine.

The political dialogue itself has changed. Driven by Internet blogs and email chains and the activism of LA Clean Sweep and hundreds of grassroots groups, the mainstream media has became an agent of change in its news coverage, commentary and its endorsements.

Over the weekend, the LA Times called for voters to reject Tom LaBonge in CD4 and Tony Cardenas in CD6 in favor of candidates — Tomas O’Grady and Richard Goodman — who will work to solve LA’s problems and make this great city it can become.

Previously, the Times endorsed Rudy Martinez over incumbent Jose Huizar while the Daily News endorsed Stephen Box in CD4 over LaBonge.

The challengers who got these endorsements are all qualified and capable of doing far better jobs for everyone in this city than the incumbents.

Box, Goodman and Martinez are all backed by LA Clean Sweep, the political action committee formed to recruit, train and support candidates committed to ending City Hall’s cycle of failure and corruption..

On Sunday, the Times launched an election week series exposing the waste, inefficiency and corruption in how the LA Community College Board and district officials have ripped off taxpayers in the handling of $5.7 billion in construction bonds.

LA Clean Sweep on Sunday voted to back a reform slate for the Community College Board.

They are Seat #1  Jozef “Joe” Thomas Essavi, Los Angeles County Commissioner;
Seat #3  Joyce Burrell Garcia, University Professor and Mark Isler (Official write-in Candidate); Seat #5  Lydia A. Gutierrez, Teacher/Neighborhood Board member, and Seat #7  Erick Aguirre, Small Business Entrepreneur.

In every seat up for election, voters have the power to hold those who have failed in their sworn duty to serve the public interest and elect a new breed of officials who are not part of the political system, people who are part of the solution, not the cause of the problem.

Polls conducted by the incumbents themselves show many of these races are too close to call.

There is no longer any justification for hopelessness, defeatism and aparthy.

Just a few hundred voters turning out in each district on March 8, voters who usually don’t show up at the polls for turnout, off-year city elections, could make the difference.

We don’t have to fill the streets with hundreds of thousands of protesters to topple repressive regimes like the people suffering under dictatorships throughout the Middle East.

We can topple the City Hall political machine simply by exercise our rights as a free people to vote for candidates who are dedicated to public service, not self-service.

The future of Los Angeles is in our hands. No excuses.

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Sunday Column News-Press Leader: Cleaning Up the Burbank Police Department

Unless you have gone through the grueling training and taken the oath to
uphold the law, you can never know what it’s like to carry a gun and be
licensed to shoot to kill.

That’s why cops are different from
the rest us — men and women who are part of a cult of law enforcement
where there are unspoken rules of conduct that sometimes become a code
of silence.

It is a very thin blue line that separates civilized
people from the barbarians among us. Inevitably, a few cops cross that
line; sometimes whole departments become infected in a way that makes
officers blind to the abuses going on around them — patterns of conduct
that are supported, even honored, by the community as a whole.

That’s
what happened to the Burbank Police Department, just as it did to the
Los Angeles Police Department, which took three decades of revelations
of police spying on prominent people, the videotaped Rodney King beating
and the pattern of tolerance of excessive use of force it exposed, the
Rampart scandal and finally a federal court consent to decree to reshape
its culture.

Burbank is only at the start of dealing with a
police culture gone awry. It is costing the city millions of dollars,
led to a long string of lawsuits and could still lead to federal civil
rights violation charges.

“We’re as far forward as we could be at
this time … all in all, we’ve come a long way,” says Scott LaChasse,
the retired LAPD commander who took over as interim Burbank chief of
police 14 months ago and faces the daunting challenge of reshaping the
culture of the department, a task that requires a delicate touch of
pushing for dramatic changes without breaking the morale of the force.

“This is a good department, a good city. It’s going to be better.”

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

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Billions to Spend: Waste throws wrench into Los Angeles community colleges’ massive project

Poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy work dog the sprawling system’s bond-financed construction program

Those are the headlines online on Part One of the LA Times powerful week-long investigate series by reporters Michael Finnegan and Gale Holland who examined what LA Community College District have done with the nearly $6 billion in taxpayer construction bonds.

The series is backed by interactive map, graphic on what each college got and a chart of the to 10 contractors and how much money they have donated to board members and to get the bond issues approved by voters.

With the election for four of the seven LACCD Board seats coming March 8, the series is a bombshell that ought to guide voters to cast ballots for fiscally responsible candidates like Lydia Gutierrez, Joe Essavi, Joyce Burrell, Erick Aguire and write-in candidate Mark Isler instead of the slate of candidates backed by the unions and developers.

They are Mona Field, Steven Veres, Miguel Santiago and Scott Svonkin. They must be held accountable or we are complicit in the waste, efficiency and corruption.

The heart of waste, efficiency and corruption is the power of money. The Times followed the money in terms of the contractors who are getting most of the nearly $6  billion and how much they contributed:

Thumbnail image for LACCD-Contractors.gif
Part One in Sunday’s paper and already online starts this way:

The effects of decades of neglect were all too visible at the nine
far-flung campuses. Roofs leaked. Furniture was decrepit. Seismic
protections were outdated.

In 2001, leaders of the Los Angeles Community College District decided
to take action. With support from construction companies and labor
unions, they persuaded voters to pass a series of bond measures over the
next seven years that raised $5.7 billion to rebuild every campus.

The money would ease classroom crowding. It would make college buildings
safer. New technology would enhance learning. And financial oversight
would be stringent.

That is what was promised to Los Angeles voters.

The reality? Tens of millions of dollars have gone to waste because of
poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy workmanship, a Times
investigation found.

Bond money has paid for valuable improvements: new science buildings,
libraries, stadiums and computer centers. But costly blunders by college
officials, contractors and the district’s elected Board of Trustees
have denied the system’s 142,000 students the full potential of one of
California’s largest public works programs.

This picture emerges from scores of interviews and a review of thousands
of pages of district financial records, internal e-mails and other
documents.

(READ FULL STORY)

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LaBonge Must Go — Box and O’Grady Will Do Better for CD4 and the City

It’s time for Tom LaBonge to get out of the way and move on to something he is qualified to do — Sister Cities ambassador, LA’s official greeter — and make room a City Council member in District 4.

This is an historic moment in CD4, the first time in decades that an incumbent or a staffer anointed to succeed in the office, faces a serious challenge.

Both Stephen Box and Tomas O’Grady are intelligent, experienced and capable of doing a better job for the district and everyone in Los Angeles.

Thanks to Ziggy Kruse of HNN-TV you can meet Box, endorsed by the Daily News and LA Clean Sweep, and O’Grady, a Neighborhood Council member and school reformer. Both have put together credible campaigns with volunteers and nearly as much money combined as the incumbent has.

“Their
statements show why indeed it is necessary to have an open election …
especially after almost 4 decades of having to live with the “what
street are you living on” opener by the incumbent,” Kruse said..

Every vote for Box or O’Grady is a vote against LaBonge and will help make sure there is a runoff in what shapes as a close race where every single vote will matter.


Coming Sunday: LA Times Blockbuster Series on Community College $6 Billion Bonds Scandal

Miki Jackson, Van de Kamps Coalition

A Los Angeles Times series on bond use and waste in the LA Community Colleges may go up on the Times website as soon as tonight.

“We
are told they are worried sick about what these articles may expose. We
have found very alarming emails and other documents while looking into
their misuse of taxpayer bonds at the Van de Kamps Campus. Mona Field,
who led the Board into this mess as President during some of the worst
of it, is especially scared that it could sink her chances of getting
re-elected on March 8. We are saying vote for “Anybody But Mona” on Seat
No. 1.  Time for a change is really overdue.” said Van de Kamps
Coalition member Laura Gutierrez


After
two auditors from his office flew from Sacramento to Los Angeles to
meet with Van de Kamps Coalition members, State Controller John Chiang’s
auditors spent 20 days of December 2010 doing a preliminary forensic
audit of the bond program. It remains to be seen whether the LA Times
series will prod Chiang to complete his audit of alleged massive bond
abuse at LACCD.


Abuses
may be widespread in the large District. Late last year District
Academic President David Beaulieu wrote on the LACCD web site that some
$100 million was committed under questionable circumstances by the
President of West Los Angeles Community College. The post was taken down
within hours. Beaulieu has repeatedly raised questions about spending
and oversight of the huge building program to deaf administration ears.


Failures
in the bond program are already the subject of four lawsuits by the Van
de Kamps Coalition concerning the building of the Northeast “Van de
Kamps” Innovation Campus. The district has been heavily criticized for
switching the campus from a Community College Satellite Campus to a
tenant based facility.


The
final outcome of the articles can only be hoped to lead to new and
better leadership in the troubled District, and to focus on what is
important: the education of our young adults.

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1601 N. Vine: A Bill of Indictment for Fraud Against the People

On Wednesday, Herb Wesson’s City Council Committee approved the city’s gift of $4.7 million to developer Hal Katersky and his Pacifica Ventures company to build an office building at 1601 N. Vine St. in Hollywood, ignoring specific allegations of fraud against the people involving $1.45 million and whitewashing all the other problems linked to this troubling project.

This project is the poster child for all that’s wrong with the Community Redevelopment Agency and why it should be abolished. And more than that, it provides a window into the depths of City Hall’s corruption and why the city’s leadership has failed and must be replaced.

Attorney Richard MacNaughton and other Hollywood activists have dug deep into the record of the “Vinegate Scandal” and turned up the smoking gun: A CRA appraisal of the property for $4.08 million — $1.7 million lower than the developer’s own appraisal. CRA staff agreed to pay the developer’s asking price of $5.45 million in 2006 without ever telling the Board of Commissioners or the City Council of the lower appraisal.

The Council has put the project on its agenda more than a dozen times and once again it is on the agenda today but is expected to delay action until next week, allowing time for City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to determine whether the Council itself would become complicit in fraud if it knowingly approves the project without a full and thorough independent investigation of the evidence that has been revealed.

Activists have called on District Attorney Steve Cooley and the FBI to conduct a criminal investigation and MacNaughton  drafted after Wesson’s committee approved the deal what amounts to a bill of indictment for submission to the City Council.

With Jan Perry absent and Richard Alarcon ducking out just before the vote, Wesson, Tony Cardenas and Ed Reyes buried the past misdeeds as the fault of former CRA staffers, including the agency’s former head Cecilia Estalano.

They then green-lighted the project based solely on Katersky’s assertion that he is an innocent victim of CRA incompetence and his unequivocal denial of all allegations that have surfaced during the last eight months of controversy.

He insisted he is the still owner and operator of his runaway film production studio in Albuquerque despite bankruptcy proceedings and has no pending lawsuits against him, going so far as to assert there is not a single judgment against him or his firm among 30 lawsuits that have been filed.

Wesson’s Housing, Economic and Community Development Committee took him at his word, choosing instead to only question in the end whether the CRA had improved its policies.

You can listen to Katersky’s comments at the end of the hearing when questioned by Cardenas (Katersky-CRA.mp3) and listen to the full hearing here.

MacNaughton’s 13-page letter (MacNaughton2-23.pdf) to committee members, backed by various documents, begins under the heading “Council May Not Turn a Blind Eye To Fraud,” saying:
 
“Although this committee and the City Council itself are not the forums to conduct criminal investigations, when presented with proof of the elements of criminal conduct, the council may not turn away and say, “I do not want to deal with that.” By approving the deal, the committee has ratified the wrongdoing.”

“The Committee has not taken the time to review the documentation and the committee has undertaken no investigation. Asking the alleged perpetrators or their successors to provide evidence of their guilt seldom produces incriminating evidence. In this case, however, the citizens have forced the CRA to admit that in 2006 it withheld from the CRA Commission and from City Council the existence of the CRA $4 appraisal. The balance of the CRA’s January 2011 and February 2011 reports are at
best worthless and often misleading.”

He then goes on to examine Katersky’s role in flipping the property from Steve Ullman to the CRA, suggesting the developer’s statements to the committee were “evasive and disingenuous” based on documents at the time of the 2006 sale.

He cites bankruptcy records for the Albuquerque Studios and other court records involving Katersky in past and pending lawsuit to question his veracity.

“Rather than voting to give a multi-million deal to a man who could not be forthright even today, the committee had the duty to call for a criminal investigation,” MacNaughton concluded.

“Rather than obtaining answers, the committee ratified the prior and current wrongdoing. The best that can be said for a Committee member is that he had a conscious ignorance of the facts.”
 .

This is not an isolated example of how the CRA and the City Council operate.

It has never been explained why this deal for an office building in a glutted office space market in Hollywood was ever worth one dime of the public’s money or how luring a couple of small entertainment companies from Burbank or Santa Monica will do anything to stimulate the regional economy.

It has never been explained why key documents disappeared, why procedures were violated, why former staffers were never interviewed about what really happened.

All we know is that Council President Eric Garcetti wants this project bad enough to risk his reputation on it and that whatever the Council President wants, he gets from other Council members — or else.

This is not a system of laws that serve the public interest but a system of back room deals that serve private interests.

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Real L.A. News from the Virtual World: Pensions and People Power

The Pension Haves and the Have-Nots

By George Skelton, LA Times

Except for the super-rich, our financial well-being has become
chillingly shaky in the global economy and downright scary during the
great recession.

There’s cheap labor overseas and job-killing technology at home.

Private-sector workers have been taking it on the chin for a decade or
more: Future pensions frozen for current employees and eliminated for
new hires; retirees at the mercy of risky 401(k) plans and Wall Street.
Plus layoffs and elimination of retiree health benefits.

Now it’s the public sector’s turn to suffer, in the eyes of many in
private enterprise. It’s sort of an American civil war between
government and non-government families.

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

Krekorian Seeks Input on Neighborhood Empowerment

By The City Maven

A survey on how to improve Los Angeles’ policies toward neighborhood
councils was posted online today by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul
Krekorian.

The survey focuses mainly on the finances, training and responsibilities of neighborhood councils.

“This survey is another vehicle through which the community can help
shape local empowerment,” said Krekorian, who chairs the Education and
Neighborhoods Committee. “The feedback we get from this survey will form
the foundation of how we will improve local democracy and the
Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.”

The survey is available on the councilman’s blog, which can be found here. It will be up until March 22.

Hidden Fat to Pay for Libraries: 477 Mayor, Council Staffers

By Patrick Range McDonald and Mars Meinicoff, LA Weekly

Today, the mayor’s and City Council’s personal staffs together total 477 — more than President Barack Obama’s White House office staff.

Meanwhile, the city’s Quality and Productivity Commission hasn’t
produced a report in years on how to make City Hall more efficient. But
the commission is busy. Its real job? Producing an annual QP Awards, broadcast on City Hall’s public-access TV channel to give awards to city workers.

The libraries could be made whole via Measure L without public-safety
money, but Villaraigosa and the City Council have never attempted such a
discussion. The council members, who at $178,789 each are the highest
paid in the U.S., earning more than members of Congress, don’t even know
the cost of their staffs.

(READ FULL STORY)

Controversy Follows Union-backed Candidate Challenging Councilman Parks

By Beth Barrett, LA Weekly

Hogan-Rowles’ public track record is fraught with controversy.

She was quietly forced from her appointment to the DWP Retirement Board
in 2009 by the mayor’s office after the poverty program she runs
solicited and received $12,800 in donations from money managers who were
doing, or seeking to do, business with DWP.

L.A. Weekly learned of the incident from former DWP chief David Freeman
as it conducted interviews about Hogan-Rowles’ five votes in favor of
DWP rate hikes when she sat on the utility’s other board, the DWP Commission.

According to Freeman, who at the time was Villaraigosa’s deputy mayor
for energy and the environment, “She solicited or obtained
contributions from people doing business with the Retirement Board, and
we didn’t like the smell of it.” He adds: “She resigned from the
Retirement Board at the request of the mayor’s office.”

Hogan-Rowles eventually also left her corollary post as a DWP commissioner — having missed 47 of the commission’s 142 meetings.

She left a wake of criticism behind her.

(READ FULL STORY)

Fraud or Mistakes? 1601 N. Vine Office Project Goes Forward — Again

In a 90-minute hearing on the 1601 N. Vine St. office project, a City Council committee on Wednesday exonerated controversial developer Hal Katersky and blamed the Community Redevelopment Agency for the project’s “troubling” history.

With Alarcon walking out before the vote, Wesson, Reyes and Cardenas voted to approve the project and send it to the full City Council next week – the 13th time it has been on the Council agenda.

Disputing accusations his business dealings have been marked by numerous lawsuits, investigations and bankruptcy of a runaway film production studio in Albuquerque, Katersky portrayed himself as an innocent developer with a long history of success.

“We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to and we’ve spent $4 million to push this project forward,” Katersky told the Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee.

Attorney and Hollywood activist Richard MacNaughton (MacNaughton.pdf) laid out the case against Katersky and the CRA’s gift of $4.7 million to the developer.

He called for a full criminal investigation of possible fraud involved in how the property was sold by Ullman Investments to Katersky’s Pacifica Ventures in 2006 and then flipped a month later to the CRA for the same $5.45 million price. The deal called for the CRA to sell it back to Katersky for $825,000.

CD4 candidate Stephen Box questioned the project itself,  saying, “The last thing we need in Hollywood is more office space … the reason new office space has not been built for 30 years is because there is a glut … If this project were viable, it would take off on its own momentum.”

Echoing CRA Commissioner Madeline Janis, he called the project the “poster child for abolishment of the CRA.”

“This is an example of what’s wrong with the CRA, a call to action for a city prosecutor … to investigate the CRA. The people of Los Angeles are unrepresented in a situation like this.”

The critical question involving 1601 N. Vine involves separate appraisals by Katersky that put the property’s value as $5.45 million and the CRA’s own appraisal that placed the value as $4.08 million.

Without informing Katersky or the CRA Commission of their own appraisal, CRA staff went forward and paid the higher price and now claims it cannot find documents showing there was an attempt to reconcile the massive gap in appraisals,

An aide to Council President Eric Garcetti who is pushing for approval of the project acknowledged a “lack of transparency … and some problems” but insisted the only question is “whether it is viable.”

For his part, Wesson said how much he hates it when “when I hear the word fraud” and promised to “really vet this  …. The biggest mistake you can ever make in life is to feed a stray cat, you can never get rid of it … We want to get rid of this one way or another.”

Cardenas claimed he wasn’t going to vote to approve the project but accepted CRA staff’s admission that mistakes were made and that Katersky did nothing wrong and was going to submit documentation of what steps are being taken to make sure such problems “never happen again.”

Reyes called for a one-page summary for the full Council showing what public funds have been invested and what is going to be gained from the project.
In abstaining, Alarcon went a step further and called for “conservative and extremely conservative estimates” of the public benefits of the project.

“The most troubling thing is that CRA knew $4 million appraisal yet encouraged developer to pay $1.4 million without informing the developer or the board.  Somebody was interested in benefiting Mr. Ullman $1.4 million more than CRA appraisal.

“This is very troubling, may even be more than troubling.”

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Every Vote Counts: Volunteer to Help Elect Council Candidates Who Will Serve You

City Hall will stop at nothing to protect and preserve a political system of privileged insiders that has failed the city’s four million residents and its business community.


Nearly three years into a financial crisis caused by years of over-spending, the city’s leadership has proven itself incapable of confronting the budget crisis that gets worse year after year.


Their efforts to win concessions from unions to reduce payroll and benefit costs that account for 80 percent of the $4.3 billion general fund budget have been feeble so they have resorted to one-time solutions like furloughs, transfer of workers to special funds and the DWP, asset sales and various tricks to cook the books.


And now a feeding frenzy is on at City Hall among developers, contractors and unions as if there were no tomorrow — which might well be the case as bankruptcy looms as the only way out when they run out of case sometimes in the next 15 months.


It doesn’t have to be this way.


Two weeks from today, on March 8, we the people have the power to elect seven members of the City Council who are honest, independent and committed to fiscal responsibility and community empowerment — the tenets of the LA Clean Sweep movement.


In this election, every vote truly counts. Every vote that is cast for change will send City Hall the message that we are beyond being mad as hell, that we are ready to do something about it..


Some of these races including Stephen Box in CD4 and Rudy Martinez in CD14 are certain to be close.


And even in races where grassroots candidates are long shots, your vote will show that the turnout — normally only 7 to 13 percent of registered voters in off-year elections — is swelling and voters are paying attention.

The campaigns are gearing up their phone banking and precinct walking efforts and need volunteers to reach more voters.


For instance, Stephen Box’s campaign needs more volunteers to work 4-hour shifts
from 1 PM to 8PM on weekdays and 11 AM – 8 PM in the Mid-City area — Park La Brea, Miracle Mile, Sycamore Square, Hancock Park and Larchmont. .

Contact George Rheault, Mid-City coordinator, via email george.rheault@gmail.com or by phone (323) 571-2150 (h), (917) 603-0879 (m) if you want to help elect Stephen Box, a candidate who will serve the public interest to replace Tom LaBonge, a servant of special interests.


Here’s how to get involved directly in the campaigns of candidates endorsed by LA Clean Sweep:

CD4

 

STEPHEN BOX

Contact the Stephen Box about volunteering or donation by visiting his website at http://stephenbox.com/

CD6

 

DAVID BARRON 

Contact David Barron’s campaign at 818 974 5054 for more information or visit his website http://barron4cc.com/site/


RICH GOODMAN

Contact Rich Goodman’s campaign at http://www.richgoodman.com/


JAMES “JAMIE” CORDARO

Contact Cordaro’s campaign at http://www.lacd6.com/

CD8

 

BERNARD PARKS

Help in precinct walking and phone banking, learn more at his website at http://www.bernardparks2011.com/home/

 

CD 10

 

AUSTIN DRAGON:

Contact Austin Dragon’s campaign at 310-439-5024 or visit his website at http://www.austindragon.com/ 

CD12

 

KELLY LORD

Visit Kelly Lord’s website for more information at  http://lord4cd12.com/index.html

BRAD SMITH

Visit Brad Smith’s website http://smithforcouncil.org/  


CD 14

RUDY MARTINEZ

Go to Rudy Martinez’scampaign
headquarters at 4555 Eagle Rock Blvd. Visit his website http://www.rudy2011.org/ 

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Busting the ‘Armenian Power’ Crime Syndicate — What It Means to the Community

My Sunday column for the Glendale-Burbank News-Press Leader

Fighting the ‘Power’

They are a people who have long endured repression and reigns of terror across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Even here, in the Promised Land where so many Armenians are thriving, they still are victimized.

Sometimes it’s the pain of prejudice that every wave of immigrants has felt when their numbers threaten the way things were.

This time, it comes from their own people, a vast Los Angeles-based international syndicate called Armenian Power that is accused of preying on Armenians, engaging in kidnapping, robbery and extortion even as its 250 members and hundreds of runners stole millions from banks and credit card companies, dealt drugs and committed other crimes against us all.

On Wednesday, a joint local-state-federal task force of nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers — Operation Power Outage — rounded up 74 of the 99 suspects indicted by grand juries in Los Angeles and Orange County on 234 counts of criminal activity and racketeering.Of the 70 suspects identified as being from Los Angeles County, 19 live in Glendale and six live in Burbank.

The crimes of the few feed prejudice and stain a whole community, shining an unwanted negative light on the 80,000 or more Armenians in Glendale and the half-million across Southern California who work hard, obey the law and contribute to our society.

“The bulk of the community is unaware of and unaffected by the deeds that are alleged in this indictment,” said Garo Ghazarian, vice chair of the Armenian Bar Assn. “The community is not tolerant of this. They want to live a free and safe life. That’s why I left Beirut. That’s why we are here. These crimes as alleged were committed by the few, but they create a negative image for us all.”

(READ FULL ARTICLE)