L.A. Tobacco Funds Plan Under Fire
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Mayor Richard Riordan's plan to sacrifice up to $300 million from the national tobacco-settlement to pay for a barrage of anticipated lawsuits stemming from the city's police corruption scandal has quickly come under fire.
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles. The mayor recommended that the city use up to $300 million of tobacco settlement money to pay for lawsuits anticipated from the city's police corruption scandal.``The money from the tobacco settlement ... is supposed to save lives, not save face,'' said Dr. Richard F. Corlin, a Santa Monica physician and speaker of the American Medical Association's House of Delegates.
``It is corrupt in and of itself to steal the tobacco settlement money to pay off the price of political problems and police corruption,'' Corlin said in a statement Thursday.
Some members of the City Council said the money already is earmarked for street improvements mandated by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
City officials have estimated lawsuits associated with the city's burgeoning police corruption scandal, in which officers are accused of beating, framing and even shooting innocent people, could cost at least $125 million.
Riordan said Thursday that the city can avoid breaking its budget, reducing services or raising taxes if it raises about $100 million in bond money by giving up three times that amount in tobacco funds it will receive over 25 years.
``This is the best use of these dollars,'' he said.
``This would allow us to cover our liabilities for the first several years, I believe, and I hope our total liabilities. We're not forced to take a big hit right away.''
Under the national $206 billion tobacco settlement, Los Angeles is to get up to $300 million over 25 years. The money is intended to repay states, cities and counties for health care costs associated with smoking.
Riordan said the city does not have a formal spending plan for the money but it probably would have been spent on antismoking programs and street improvements.
Under the proposal, which requires approval from the City Council, Los Angeles would issue bonds backed by the tobacco settlement in order to get money in a lump sum, instead of in the payment stream over 25 years.
Meanwhile Thursday, a judge agreed to throw out the convictions of nine more people whose cases prosecutors say were tainted by police misconduct. The dismissals bring to 40 the number of convictions overturned.
``We have dozens of more cases under review,'' District Attorney Gil Garcetti said.
As many as 20 officers have been relieved of duty, fired, suspended or have quit since the investigation started last fall. Police have refused to say how many officers are still under suspicion.
Garcetti said he is doubling the number of prosecutors assigned to the investigation, with a staff of 19 expected to be on board within the next two weeks.
Former undercover officer Rafael Perez, convicted of stealing cocaine from an evidence locker, has detailed the corruption in his former unit, the Rampart Division near downtown, and suggested it is more wide-ranging.
Also Thursday, an LAPD disciplinary panel concluded that Capt. Richard Meraz should be punished for failing to take appropriate action after learning of an alleged beating of a handcuffed suspect at the Rampart station.
Meraz, the highest-ranking officer to be disciplined in the scandal, could be fired or receieve as little as a written reprimand. An LAPD disciplinary panel is expected to decide his punishment Monday.
No charges have been filed against any officers implicated in the corruption, though police have recommended prosecuting three officers and Garcetti has said he expects his investigation to result in charges.