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No end in sight for Children's Theatre probe

Police Chief Lynne Johnson says she doesn't know how much longer investigation into financial crimes will take

The investigation into possible financial crimes at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre is continuing with no word of when it may be concluded, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said Monday.

"We're still sorting all sorts of evidence," Johnson said. "It's a very laborious process."

The investigation had been underway for several months, but surfaced Jan. 24 when the theater was abruptly closed and four of its staff placed on administrative leave. Police investigators searched the theater, homes of staff members and seven storage units at a public-storage yard in East Palo Alto.

The theater was partially reopened four days later, in part using other city-theater staff so the play, "The Giver," could be performed the following weekend. One of the staff members placed on administrative leave, Assistant Director Michael Litfin, who had been under treatment for cancer, died Friday evening, the night the play opened. The precise cause of death has not been disclosed.

Longtime Children's Theatre Director Pat Briggs remains on suspension along with the two other staff members.

"I understand that this investigation is extremely sensitive and emotional," Johnson wrote in a letter to the community published on Palo Alto Online and in the Weekly's Feb. 13 print edition.

"The Children's Theatre is a long-standing and valued institution in our community. The beloved staff have provided years of incredible service to the youth in Palo Alto. This investigation will not overshadow those achievements."

Johnson said "the crimes we are investigating are very serious and do not involve misappropriation of small amounts of money or office supplies, but potentially tens of thousands of dollars."

-- Palo Alto Weekly staff


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Posted by Concerned PA resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2008 at 11:08 pm

This is outrageous! To me, the Police Dept is on a fishing expedition to try to find something to justify their poor handling of this matter. This "full time investigation" has been going on for a month already. I think someone should look into what the police has been doing and how they have been spending our tax dollars on this investigation.

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Posted by Daniel
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 25, 2008 at 11:49 pm

It's worse than you think, Concerned. The investigation has been going on since the burglary last June - that's NINE months ago. The police have failed to come up with anything about either the burglary or their "fishing expedition".

Hard to imagine them getting away with this in Palo Alto, but they seem to be doing so.

Like this comment
Posted by PA taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:31 am

The police are doing their job.

To the people involved be happy.

If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:36 am

Interesting that people with no background or knowledge about police procedure should complain because the police are doing the job they are paid to do. No one has been accused of a crime prematurely which means the rights of all citizens have been protected.

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Posted by Stolen bikes & theater crimes
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:43 am

Fortunately for all you taxpayers, you live in a wealthy suburban area. LAPD would not leave the stationhouse for these "crimes".

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Posted by My2Cents
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2008 at 10:09 am

Did it every occur to anyone that the employees involved are on ADMINISTRATIVE leave, and are getting paid in full while they aren't working? What about the expense of an exhaustive investigation for the P.D.? It is in neither the interest of the city nor the P.D. to extend this investigation for one minute longer than neccessary, and I'm sure they won't.
If financial fraud did indeed occur it could take weeks, if not longer, for the financial institutions involved to deliver the requested information. Banks are not set up to do this, it's a rare event and there are no employees who aren't already busy doing their regular duties.Ask any bank employee.
Blaming the amount of time for the investigation on the Palo Alto Police Department (who I personally really dislike) is inaccurate and ignorant.

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Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Ignore the cries of outrage PAPD. These comments are certainly being made by those who know little or nothing about the case, or how complex these investigations must be. The critics need to stop reacting emotionally. I am grateful that the PAPD is taking a thorough, measured approach, or would you rather they rush to judgment without processing all the facts. Be patient.

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Posted by Patience Required
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2008 at 12:01 am

By all accounts, the theater office was stuffed to the gills. Seeing as it can take weeks, months, sometimes even years for people to slog through their own office paperwork after they've make the mistake of letting things build up too far, I think it's unreasonable to expect the PAPD to be speedy as they sift through someone else's accumulation. There is always a consequence for deferred maintenance and unfortunately PAPD is being saddled with blame for a slow pace.

Please note that I am not trying to disparage any theater employees. I am certain they placed a higher priority on interaction with the children than on office administration and that sentiment is commendable. However the truth remains that PAPD has been tasked with searching through an out of control office and that task is likely to require more time than might seem reasonable under other circumstances.

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Posted by smarter than the rest
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2008 at 5:13 am

the police have a LOT of evidence to sort through...once they are done with this, beyond a reasonable doubt on the theater criminals will be easy.

Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 27, 2008 at 2:13 pm


P.A. website cost $500k +

Both directors of the theater make $100k +

Please. Please. Please don't talk about waste or cost in Palo Alto. Ok?

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2008 at 4:50 pm

The total operating cost of the theater through the years is nothing in comparison to the money blown on questionable greenie schemes and city attempts to bring back the doctrine of interposition. One wonders whose toes the theater crowd trod on.

Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 27, 2008 at 4:59 pm

"Both directors of the theater make $100k +"
Yes, that is true - after 30+ years working in the same position, early morning until late at night, and providing services to thousands of PA children - their salaries have increased to just $100K.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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