News

Benest may have initiated detectives' Texas trip

Former Arts & Culture Director Leon Kaplan and Sgt. Michael Yore at odds over interview

City Manager Frank Benest and former Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison may have played a direct role in the criminal investigation of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, the Weekly learned Wednesday.

Police Chief Lynne Johnson said Thursday that Benest had nothing to do with the trip, however.

Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin also said Benest was not behind the trip.

The investigation heretofore has been characterized as an independent probe conducted by the Police Department, with virtually all statements about the probe coming from Johnson.

Sgt. Michael Yore, who headed the investigation, told former Arts & Culture Director Leon Kaplan (who supervised the Children's Theatre) during an October 2007 interview in Texas that he had flown there because "Frank is just truly trying to get to the bottom of things," according to a transcript of the interview with Yore.

"The more I looked into (the Children's Theatre's finances), the more unhappy I became, as did Emily, as did Frank," Yore said, according to the transcript.

The transcript confirms Kaplan's recollection that Yore told him he had been sent to Texas by Benest.

But Johnson said Thursday that "Emily and Frank didn't have anything to do with (the trip)."

She said Yore suggested the trip to her and Capt. Mark Venable, Yore's boss, who approved it.

"I have no idea why (Yore) said that. They didn't have anything to do with the investigation," she said. She said Yore might have mentioned the city manager's name "to try to push a point or tell the seriousness of it."

The transcript also shows discrepancies between Kaplan's comments to Yore and those he made to the Weekly months later.

The Weekly published an account of the visit on Feb. 29 based on a telephone interview with Kaplan, which provided the first public confirmation that Yore was investigating the theater's long-running costume sales and kids' trips to festivals, led by staff. Kaplan formerly supervised theater Director Pat Briggs but moved to Texas in 2004.

Yore and other city officials have stated that Kaplan's account of the interview was inaccurate.

In the "Follow-Up" section of the police report released June 2, Yore wrote that he needed to "reinterview Kaplan to determine whether he lied during his Oct. 31, 2007, taped interview with me or if he lied to the Palo Alto Weekly when they reported his facts of the case."

He also prepared an approximately six-page list comparing the Weekly's story with the original interview transcript.

The two men disagree on their conversation about costume sales, a practice in which the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, a nonprofit support group, would sell the theater's used costumes and kept the proceeds.

Kaplan told the Weekly that after explaining the Children's Theatre costume sales procedure to Yore, Yore — who views the costume sales as a violation of city policies — responded, "Don't you think that (it is) essentially embezzlement?"

In his list, Yore points out that he never used the word embezzlement or any word with a similar meaning during the interview. The transcript does not contain the word "embezzlement."

Kaplan told the Weekly the arrangement with the Friends regarding costume sales was reviewed by the city attorney. But to Yore, Kaplan implied the costume-sales agreement with the Friends was more informal, according to the transcript.

When Yore questioned Kaplan about the costumes and the city's surplus policy, Kaplan is quoted as telling the detective: "I actually remember ... I mean, my memory here is very dim. But I remember that there was several times, uh, that Pat did go through the surplus property process and we made our request to the city manager to uh, dispose of the ... items. Now, if they were costumes, I can't remember that. But if they were something else, I can't remember that. I kind of think they were costumes."

In a Tuesday e-mail to the Weekly, Kaplan angrily challenged the excerpt and his portrayal in the police report.

"Sgt. Yore lies. If he doesn't lie outright, he lies by omission."

"The way this is transcribed makes it seem as if I did not know what was going on. This is not at all what I was attempting to convey to Yore. I probably did put some qualifiers in my remarks because I had been away for four years and I did not have, at the moment he came to visit, access to any verifying documents. Nevertheless, I never said, 'I kind of think they were costumes.'

"Of course they were costumes; that's why we called it a costume sale," Kaplan wrote. "That's why, when we made the annual request to the city manager to surplus the items, we identified the items as costumes."

Kaplan said Yore also only quoted a portion of city policies relating to declaring property surplus and not the part about how the city manager can designate items as surplus.

The transcript also revealed other discrepancies. The interview took place on Halloween, not in mid-November as Kaplan told the Weekly. The woman accompanying Yore, who introduced herself to Kaplan only by her first name, is a management specialist with the police department, not a forensic accountant as reported.

Yore did not ask about the theater construction in the early 1990s or mention a "blank purchase order," according to the interview transcript. Kaplan brought up the theater construction project, and Yore showed Kaplan a document that had been signed by Briggs rather than Kaplan himself, the transcript indicates.

The transcript also does not include any reference to a discussion of the middle-management unionization effort or a "climate of fear," topics Kaplan told the Weekly were included.

In his list, Yore also pointed out an error made by the Weekly: No traveler's checks were found in the theater office. The checks in the office were stolen in the June 18 burglary.

Kaplan has consistently maintained that Briggs, the late Assistant Director Michael Litfin and other theater staff members did not intend to break any laws.

He told Yore: "Pat is very good. She's sloppy, but she's very good about retaining stuff."

Related material:

Theater investigation focused on 'skimming'

TIMELINE: Children's Theatre investigation

ARCHIVE: Children's Theatre investigation

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by William
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 6, 2008 at 3:38 am

Hmmm .. the police report mentions that interviews were recorded. So, has the Weekly determined if there are any recordings of this interview? Has the Weekly requested the recordings to verify the transcripts?

> Sgt. Michael Yore, who headed the investigation, told former Arts
> & Culture Director Leon Kaplan (who supervised the Children's
> Theatre) during an October 2007 interview in Texas that he had
> flown there because "Frank is just truly trying to get to the
> bottom of things," according to a
> transcript of the interview with Yore.

Did the Weekly ask Sgt. Yore who sent him to Texas when it was preparing this article?

And a casual comment by Sgt. Yore proves what? Are there any emails, or memos, from Benest to Yore, or Chief Johnson, demanding that Yore go to Texas to interview Kaplan? If not--where is the evidence of a "direct role" in this investigation, as the Weekly claims? Without evidence, the Weekly seems to be "blowing smoke" into the eyes of its readers.

It would be unfortunate if a Police Officer, in the course of an investigation, were to "drop" the name of the City Manager so casually--rather than refer to him as "City Manager so-and-so". If the Palo Alto Police make a habit of this, the Police Chief needs to tighten up the procedures so that her officers show more respect for the City Manager (and management staff in general).

> "I have no idea why (Yore) said that. They didn't have anything
> to do with the investigation," she said. She said Yore might
> have mentioned the city manager's name "to try to push a point
> or tell the seriousness of it."

Chief Johnson seems to provide a very reasonable explanation. The Weekly is certainly doing everything in its power to throw mud in the face of this police investigation with this very shoddy bit of "journalism".

> The woman accompanying Yore, who introduced herself to
> Kaplan only by her first name, is a management specialist with
> the police department, not a forensic accountant as reported.

The Weekly article does not indicate if this is from Kaplan's memory, or from the transcript. If anyone from the PA Police Department were to travel to another state to interview someone, and not introduce himself/herself with his/her full name, title, and leave a business card--this would be very poor police practice.

> The transcript also does not include any reference to a discussion
> of the middle-management unionization effort or a "climate of fear,"
> topics Kaplan told the Weekly were included.

So why is Kaplan telling the Weekly all of this stuff that didn't happen, unless he is trying to divert attention from himself or attempting to discredit the investigation? If Kaplan did say these things, what do they have to do with the diversion of money from costume sales?

> Kaplan told the Weekly the arrangement with the Friends regarding
> costume sales was reviewed by the city attorney. But to Yore, Kaplan
> implied the costume-sales agreement with the Friends was more
> informal, according to the transcript.

The Weekly could have checked out this claim with the City Attorney's Office--but it sounds like it didn't.

It really would be a good idea for someone to see if there are any records of this interview to verify the recordings against the transcripts. Memories can be such fragile things.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2008 at 7:56 am

All we can be sure of is it ain't Frank's fault.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 6, 2008 at 8:09 am

So - one can conclude that the investigation WAS directed by Frank Benest. This suggests that some of the theatre supporters were right all along.

I wonder if the above post was written by someone in the PAPD as part of their continuing misinformation campaign. It sounds awfully defensive - esp. when no one else here attacked the police. Moreover, the writer's question about whether the Weekly asked Yore about his statements is typical police evasion - it has been repeatedly stated that the Weekly has tried to talk to Yore.

Leon's last word in the article about Pat being very good is heartening. I'm glad there is at least SOMEONE out there who relies upon their own experience instead of buying into the police version of "fact".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by William
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 6, 2008 at 8:19 am

> So - one can conclude that the investigation WAS directed
> by Frank Benest.

There is absolutely NOTHING in this poorly written article that proves that Benest had anything to do with "directing" this investigation.

> I wonder if the above post was written by someone in
> the PAPD as part of their continuing misinformation campaign

Nope .. not associated with the police in any way.

and as to the "continuing misinformation campaign" .. wonder if this post was written by someone who writes for Pravda? "Misinformation campaign" -- this police report is the first bit of substantive information released by the police, who have otherwise been guarded in their comments to the public until now.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 6, 2008 at 9:36 am

Police - guarded???? Between her " letters to the community", editorializing and contradicting herself, Johnson was running off at the mouth all the time during this "investigation".

Cy


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bye Bye Briggs
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2008 at 10:08 am

Daniel continues the constant attack and belittlement of the police and the PACT investigation that has been the hallmark of the supporters of PACT.
The only reason that Johnson issued any statements before the investigation was completed was due to the howling and incessant baying of the supporters of PACT, and more specifically the "Pat Briggs is a Saint" crowd.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by lazlo toth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2008 at 7:25 pm

How sad that all of you have nothing more to do than worry about city employees, the same people who make about the same amount of money per year as it costs to buy a cheap BMW. Enjoy your pathetic lives! Turn off your laptops! Go outside and breath the fresh air!


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