Chief Lewis Defends the SVPD

I’m used to taking the unpopular position, so I’ll go ahead and say this: I don’t believe the SVPD has done anything wrong in their handling of the Takasugi fraud case, the controversial criminal complaint regarding Mayor Huber’s former law associate. And these aren’t just my miscellaneous thoughts on the subject. I believe I have asked the right people the right questions to better understand the situation as well as the investigative process and required resources for such cases.

Even though I was on vacation last week, I was still tuned in enough to be thoroughly disappointed when the Ventura County Star decided to run another story on the SVPD where the City Council requests a third party investigation on their handling of the Takasugi case. The story shed no light on any new facts or information and seemed to only keep the topic fresh on the minds of Simi Valley readers. I wasn’t the only one who saw it this way.

Chief Mike Lewis has drafted a response to be published in the Ventura County Star. He lays out the facts regarding the timeline of events as well as the resources allocated to the investigation. Understandably, his frustration is evident regarding the story’s constant revival in our local paper.

When we’re not in the midst of an election cycle, I’m proud to say that I’m a supporter of our City Council. But I don’t always agree with every stand they take, either as a unified Council or individually. I hope that our City Council can let this issue rest for now and I think they really have since mentioning this issue several weeks back. Even better, I’d hope the Ventura County Star can ease up until there’s something new and relevant to report. There’s an awful lot we don’t know about how these cases are investigated, not to mention an even bigger issue regarding available resources and concerns about mandatory job rotations. Rather than open Pandora’s box, I propose we all rest easy and let this play itself out.

Here are Chief Mike Lewis’s thoughts on the matter:

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

For many weeks now, the 195 fine men and women of the Simi Valley Police Department have been maligned regarding the alleged delay of a complex fraud investigation.  Normally, our internal review and a subsequent request for an investigation (which was declined) by the District Attorney’s Office would be sufficient to quell any questions regarding the allegation of an inappropriate action, in this case the intentional delay in completing an investigation.  However, this particular issue seems to have taken on a life of its own, and I will not silently stand by while the integrity of my officers and support staff is continually impugned for questionable purposes.

A review of the facts are as follows:

Beate Kirmse, administrator for the estate of Oscar Muro, filed a criminal complaint on October 19, 2010, alleging attorney Russell Takasugi, embezzled funds from the estate of Mr. Muro.  This was 14 days before the recent City elections.  An article reporting this criminal complaint appeared in the Ventura County Star on October 25.  This was one week before the election.

When this complaint was filed, our lead expert economic crimes investigator was out of the office for an extensive training class to prepare him for a new position as the Department’s lead homicide investigator.  A law enforcement agency must constantly review its workload and allocate resources based upon priority of the type of investigation and our detectives’ current caseload.  Based upon this review, our Investigative Unit made the decision to wait until our lead investigator returned from training to assist a newer detective with the investigation of this particular case.  There were no exigent circumstances requiring immediate action such as the destruction of evidence.

Fraud and embezzlement cases are very complex and require hundreds of records, including bank statements and other types of documentation, which must be subpoenaed from banks, trusts, estate attorneys, etc., before a case may be presented to the District Attorney’s Office for review. Investigations of this nature typically take many months, even years, to complete based upon the complexity.  Only after an investigation is complete would there be any information released to the public.

We are now a full six weeks into this investigation, and it will probably take several more months to complete.  If I had put my entire Investigative Unit on this case when it was first received, there would have been nothing to report before the election and this investigation would still be ongoing.  As the head of this agency, it is my professional opinion, based upon knowing all of the facts, that the Department took the proper steps in an appropriate timeframe.  For some to suggest otherwise is nothing more than an attempt to keep this “story” in the news with unfounded claims of biased policing.

The constant rehashing of this story smacks of Police Department bashing.  In fact, much of this story is attributed to second hand comments reportedly made by a civil attorney during a probate hearing in Superior Court.  The repeated assertion that there is a “black cloud” over our Department comes from not knowing all of the facts and not allowing the City Manager to complete his review and report back to the City Council with his findings.  I have already stated my desire to have full transparency on this issue and once again pledge to the community of Simi Valley that a review is welcomed.

As the Chief of Police, I am proud to state that I stand with the investigators who are diligently working this investigation; unequivocally support their decisions made, and the Department’s handling of this case.  As with all of the calls for service we receive, this case will be handled with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism because this purported dark cloud truly has a silver lining composed of the 195 dedicated staff who make up the Simi Valley Police Department.

Mike Lewis, Chief of Police
Simi Valley Police Department

DA Reviews Takasugi/SVPD Issue

The VC Star is reporting that District Attorney Totten is reviewing the allegation that the Simi Valley Police delayed the Takasugi fraud investigation until after the Mayoral election. Of course, the suggestion here is that Takasugi’s former partner, Mayor-elect Bob Huber, was protected by the SVPD by this move.

As someone who was outspokenly against the Bob Huber campaign in the final months of the campaign cycle, I immediately took notice when these headlines appeared. However, there are two things to consider before rushing to judgment: 1) what is motivating the attorney to make those statements and 2) how normal is a 3 week training period for an investigator (the official cause for the delay of the investigation).

Regarding the attorney who made the allegation in court, Roger Stanard, he’s probably quite effective at his job. If an attorney can identify a situation like the Takasugi and Huber relationship, as well as the heated election for Simi Valley Mayor, it won’t take much time for him to determine that he benefits to make an issue of it. He can comfortably make the accusation and know that the sensitive topic of our election will result in headlines which could easily result in an investigation or review by the DA. This is just cause for a continuance, where the attorney can have more time to prepare, or better yet, leverage all evidence obtained by a police investigation that is suddenly pushed forward due to public pressure. So far, this only tells us that the victims in this case have a very skilled attorney.

Keep in mind, the attorney was armed with the details of this case since June, but waited until 2 weeks before the election to file the crime report. It’s a fair bet that he knew what he was doing..

On to the other point, there are plenty who believe the Simi PD’s explanation that the investigator was in the middle of 3 weeks of training is just an excuse. It’s actually quite believable that training is something that causes unwanted delays from time to time, and it’s very believable that this is something that can continue to happen in the future. To better understand, you need to consider the basis of the Simi Valley POA contract dispute. Although I don’t know the finer details, I do have some insight at a high level that I’ve put together from input from both sides of the dispute.

Our City believes that the Police Department should implement mandatory rotation of job specialties. For example, a homicide detective might rotate into a position as a fraud investigator after a set period of time. This would give the detective multiple skills and provide redundancy and backup in the department. However, the department looks at this unfavorably. For them, it prevents them from sharpening their skills to the finest because they are effectively switching jobs. They require training on every rotation. Some detectives look for careers outside of the SVPD because of this.

Here’s the inside story on the delays in the Takasugi case. A seasoned homicide detective recently retired because he didn’t want to rotate. Another homicide detective was recently promoted. This opens two homicide positions. There are two “white collar crime” detectives, one of whom recently left, also due to the unfavorable position on rotations. The other took one of the open homicide detective positions. This new homicide detective is important here, so remember him as I continue.

With homicide partially covered, a new detective was needed to cover the now open white collar crimes investigations. The new “white collar crime” detective is a newly promoted patrol officer. This case goes to him. As a new detective, he needs to lean on someone with the expertise in cases like these. The new detective’s mentor? That would be the new homicide detective mentioned above, recently moved from his previous “white collar crime” position. Unfortunately, he was in training, in two different schools in fact. One of them was for investigating homicides.

The training situation is true… not an excuse. And it’s reflective of a serious problem in our department. Blaming either the City or the PD for the problem seems much less relevant to me than fixing the problem.

Regarding the Takasugi case, regardless of when the investigation starts, should have started, or if it has already started, everyone agrees that there appears to be a crime that has been committed. Since a criminal report has been filed and an investigation is about to happen, it’s almost a sure thing that justice will be served and he will be arrested. As to whether or not Takasugi will be indicted, that will be up to the District Attorney. And as far as whether or not Takasugi will suffer civil damages, my suspicion is that Attorney Roger Stanard will be very effective at making that happen.

Huber Didn’t Do It

Even though I’ve been on the receiving end of venomous badgering by Huber supporters, I do feel inclined to answer those who have submitted links to the Ventura County Star article regarding Russell Takasugi who works with Bob Huber. Huber isn’t the one being accused of theft, his associate is.  Earlier this week, Huber took proactive measures to distance himself from Takasugi. According to the article:

Huber said Monday that he was “shocked” at the allegations and needed time to look into them. By Wednesday, Huber had dismantled the Huber & Takasugi website and issued a statement announcing the dissolution of their business relationship.

“I have informed Russell that our formal relationship has ended immediately,” Huber said. “Russell’s actions and decisions are not those I can approve, condone or accept.”

Huber said he and Takasugi were in an association, not a partnership, meaning they kept separate trust accounts, files and clients. Huber said his name was not on the trust account in question.

“Russell has numerous cases and clients, most of whom I do not know about,” he said. “He has his clients and I have mine.”

Huber hired Takasugi as his law clerk 27 years ago. Takasugi began having ethical problems with the state bar in 1996, records show. A total of five complaints have been filed against him, several for failure to act competently. The most recent complaint resulted in Takasugi being placed on a two-year probation that began in June 2009, according to the bar.

Huber said he was aware of the disciplinary problems but hoped Takasugi had learned his lesson.

If something shady were happening under Huber’s nose and he simply turned a blind eye, then I’d say we have an election worthy issue. To me, this seems more like a partner or “associate” gone rogue and getting caught screwing up at a very bad time. Huber was smart to drop his relationship with Takasugi, and tearing down the website is actually the responsible thing to do. For Huber, I think this issue will be dead by tomorrow.  Probably not so for Mr. Takasugi…

Read the full article by clicking here.