|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."
• Theater investigation focused on 'skimming'
• TIMELINE: Children's Theatre investigation
• ARCHIVE: Children's Theatre investigation
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