TIMELINE: Children's Theatre investigation


1932 — First Children's Theatre performance.

1961 — Patricia Briggs hired to lead theater.

1976 — Michael Litfin joins theater as assistant director.

1985 — Alison Williams hired as costume supervisor.

1992 — Friends of Palo Alto Children's Theatre install air conditioning and an addition onto theater.

1995 — Richard Curtis begins running the theater box office; hired full-time in 2000.

1997 — Friends of Palo Alto Children's Theatre begins construction of outdoor stage.

2000-04 — No records or receipts submitted, or requested, for Children's Theatre purchases.

2001-03 — Director Pat Briggs and Assistant Director Michael Litfin purchase $43,700 worth of traveler's checks from the Palo Alto Community Federal Credit Union using cash advances from the city related to four theater-related trips; Litfin and Briggs use about $1,500 of traveler's checks to buy gifts from Bazaar del Mundo in southern California.

Aug. 7, 2004 — Briggs sends a memo to City Manager Frank Benest — signed by Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison, Administrative Services Director Carl Yeats and Community Services Director Richard James — requesting "authorization to donate non-essential costumes and properties to the Friends of the Children's Theatre."

September 2004 — City issues revised travel policy that explicitly requires employees to repay city if they spend less than they have received as a "travel advance." Enforcement responsibility lies with department leader.

June 15, 2006 — Joe Saccio, a longtime Administrative Services Department employee, sends Pat Briggs an e-mail clarifying the city's surplus property policy. Briggs had previously explained the theater's costume sales. "Overall, these practices appear to be consistent with the new policy and procedures," Saccio wrote.

June 16, 2007 — Theater staff discover theater's rear roll-up door open when they arrive.

June 17, 2007 — Theater staff find stage trap door open with new tool marks.

June 18, 2007 — Around 1 a.m. early Monday morning, burglars rob theater of more than $30,000 of equipment; Around 10:30 a.m., theater staff notify police of the burglary, initially finding only cash, checks and a printer missing; Officer Michael Kan investigates.

June 19 to July 1, 2007 — Briggs continues to call Kan to report additional items missing.

June 21, 2007 — Maria Diaz rents U-Haul from Amigo Market in East Palo Alto.

June 23, 2007 — Abraham Esquivias Torres and Maria Diaz arrested in San Carlos for attempting to cash traveler's checks stolen from the Children's Theatre.

June 25, 2007 — San Carlos Police Department contacts Briggs to see if she was missing traveler's checks; San Carlos PD also faxes case report about Diaz/Torres incidents.

Early July, 2007 — Police Chief Lynne Johnson notifies City Manager Frank Benest about its burglary investigation and discovery of strange bookkeeping at the theater.

July 8, 2007 — Briggs, Assistant Director Michael Litfin, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Michael Kan meet at the theater at 3:30 p.m.; theater staff tell Kan about their "screwy" system to pay for travel expenses and that they don't know how many traveler's checks were stolen; Briggs also says that city staff told her "long ago" they didn't want leftover checks returned.

July 13, 2007 — Kan and Detective Kara Salazar meet with Curtis and Briggs at the theater; Curtis said he received checks from Briggs or Litfin and used them to pay for trip expenses such as food, although he didn't use his personal credit card.

July 24, 2007 — Det. Michael Yore interviews representative of Michigan-based Travel Adventure company, which Briggs used for the children's trips to Atlanta. He learns that Briggs had purchased "all-inclusive" package that came with food, yet asked city for $2,573 for food for the 2005 trip.

July 31, 2007 — Judge Douglas Southard signs a search warrant for American Express records related to traveler's checks.

Aug. 4, 2007 — A man who rents a U-Haul truck from East Palo Alto's Amigo Market discovers $2,200 of traveler's checks form the theater.

Aug. 14, 2007 — Sgt. Michael Yore contacted by a man who rented a U-Haul from East Palo Alto's Amigo Market, he discovered more stolen traveler's checks.

Sept. 24, 2007 — Yore interviews Nancy Nagel, in the city's Administrative Services Department, who said that Briggs and Litfin hold extra performances to raise money for the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre.

Sept. 27, 2007 — Det. Aaron Sunseri and Officer James Reifschneider head to Maria Diaz's house in Menlo Park, Diaz said she didn't participate in the burglary; the officers also go to Torres' last known address in East Palo Alto where his uncle tells them he hasn't lived there for six months; Sunseri also called the house and was told again that Torres no longer lived there.

Oct. 4, 2007 — Briggs reports four video projectors worth $17,000 were discovered missing from the theater.

Oct. 15, 2007 — Santa Clara County Judge Thang Nguyen Barrett signs search warrant for travel documents from Travel Adventures Company in Michigan. In affidavit, Det. Jason Jenkins said he believes "Suspect Briggs embezzled from the City of Palo Alto between 2004 and 2007."

Oct. 24, 2007 — Det. Jason Jenkins receives travel records related to 2003, 2005 and 2007 Children's Theatre trips.

Fall 2007 — Det. Michael Yore travels to Texas to interview former theater supervisor Leon Kaplan.

Nov. 13, 2007 — Judge Thang Nguyen Barrett signs a search warrant for Wells Fargo Bank records for the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, includes Yore's discovery that Briggs received 22 checks from the Friends to Briggs.

Jan. 24, 2008 — Theatre closed, Director Pat Briggs, Assistant Director Michael Litfin, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Program Assistant Richard Curtis placed on leave. Santa Clara County Judge Douglas Southard signs search warrants for Williams, Briggs and Litfin's homes and storage units rented by Briggs, Litfin and Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre. Det. Michael Yore interviews Briggs at police headquarters, he asks about trips, traveler's checks.

Jan. 25, 2008 — Police search Children's Theatre. City hires Douglas Freifeld, attorney who conducted portions of the administrative investigations of Briggs, Williams and Curtis.

Jan. 28, 2008Rehearsals at theater resume. Det. Jason Jenkins, in San Diego for a law enforcement course, visits Bazaar Del Mundo, where Litfin and Briggs bought gifts on their trips.

Jan. 30, 2008 — Yore interviews former theater employee Kathy Brouchoud, who said that anytime Briggs or Litfin needed additional money, they would stage an extra performance to raise money for the Friends.

Jan. 31, 2008 — Police search storage units of Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, theater staff.

Feb. 1, 2008 — Assistant Director Michael Litfin, 63, dies while undergoing cancer treatment; Santa Clara County Judge Douglas Southard signs search warrant for storage units, computers and orders them sealed.

Feb. 6, 2008 — City staff announce revised theater schedule, one show cut, another delayed. Judge Douglas Southard approves search warrants to obtain information about the where and when hundreds of traveler's checks, bought by Briggs, Litfin, Curtis or Williams, were purchased and cashed.

Feb. 8, 2008 — Police Chief Lynne Johnson issues statement to the community about investigation, "tens of thousands of dollars" involved. Officers are working "tirelessly" on the case. "We ask for the community's patience in allowing us to complete this difficult investigation."

Feb. 11, 2008 — State Sen. Joe Simitian serves as executor of Litfin's estate, assisted by Mayor Larry Klein.

Feb. 17, 2008 — Litfin's memorial service held at Children's Theatre; Curtis accesses a computer at the theater, violating the terms of his administrative leave.

Feb. 27, 2008 — Children's Theater Defense Fund formed by theater supporters to pay for legal costs.

Feb. 29, 2008 — Weekly's interview with Leon Kaplan, former supervisor of theater, reveals investigation is linked to long-standing costume sales, theater trips.

March 7, 2008 — Palo Alto Weekly reports details of burglary, including Torres' current location in San Mateo County Jail.

March 10, 2008 — Sgt. Michael Yore tells Det. Sunseri that Abraham Torres is in custody.

March 18, 2008 — Palo Alto detectives Sunseri and Salazar interview Torres in jail, where he confesses to burglary of theater.

April 16, 2008 — Palo Alto police return search warrants to court, they are sealed and unavailable for the public.

April 22, 2008 — Police finally announce Torres has confessed to the burglary, information they have had for more than a month.

April 25, 2008 — Police Chief Lynne Johnson issues rare response to a newspaper article, decrying a Palo Alto Daily News story on Sgt. Michael Yore published April 24.

April 28, 2008 — Torres pleads "no contest" to felony burglary in a plea bargain for an expected six-month jail sentence in Santa Clara County.

April 29, 2008 — Search warrant affidavits unsealed by Judge Douglas Southard.

May 8, 2008 — Palo Alto Weekly is first with the news the criminal investigation is over, staff won't face charges.

May 13, 2008 — Police Chief Lynne Johnson confirms that officers are no longer pursuing costume-sales aspect of investigation.

May 15, 2008 — In a one-page statement, Johnson announces the conclusion of the criminal investigation, yet says police have proof of "serious financial misconduct and other possible criminal activity." Deputy District Attorney Steve Lowney explains case is too complex, lacks evidence for successful prosecution, although strange accounting warranted investigation.

May 16, 2008 — Briggs and Curtis receive word they are recommended for termination due to city's administrative investigation, Williams told to return to work, although she might face discipline.

May 19, 2008 — In an unconventional discussion, Palo Alto City Council expresses interest in outside review of investigation.

May 21, 2008 — Theater supporters celebrate Costume Supervisor Alison Williams' second day back to work with cake, hugs.

— Becky Trout


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