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City Treasurer's Silence Causes Concern

Two City Council members want to make sure the city's finances have not been compromised in light of allegations of attempted extortion of the city treasurer after his iPad was allegedly stolen by his Craigslist masseuse or her boyfriend.

Things could get interesting at the Hermosa Beach City Council meeting tonight, but then again, they might not if the pressing issue that has most everybody talking is tabled for a future council meeting.

The issue? Whether or not City Treasurer David Cohn's interaction with a female masseuse, who allegedly was involved in stealing his iPad and attempted to extort $6,000 from him so she would delete the content on it but keep the iPad, and her boyfriend has jeopardized city finances; and whether or not citizens want someone with such judgment in the position of handling city finances, Council member Michael DiVirgilio told Patch hours before Tuesday night's 7 p.m. meeting.

DiVirgilio, who sent a letter co-signed by Councilman Kit Bobko Monday to the city manager asking that an emergency resolution be placed on tonight's agenda to suspend "the Treasurer’s authority to manage the City’s assets or unilaterally assert control over City Staff or City funds until such time as the authorities have completed their investigation of the matter, and an audit of City funds has been completed." told Patch that there should be a public dialog about what is going on "to catch everybody up to speed" with what has transpired in the last 24+ hours.

"We've now initiated the discussion," he said. "I need to raise this. I'm open to their (council members' and city officials') feedback (as to what protocol is and what action should be taken, if any)."

City Attorney Michael Jenkins told Patch that an item of business, which is what DiVirgilio and Bobko wanted, can only be added to an agenda that's been finalized (in this case, Thursday) if two-thirds of council vote to add it tonight and "only if they make the finding that the need to take action arose after the agenda was posted and that there's an immediate need to take action."

"As this is unfolding, I'm understanding the requirements and limitations better," he said of his requested emergency resolution. "We hire the city manager and city attorney to be our experts."

DiVirgilio said he is concerned because Cohn has not been returning phone calls (he placed one that went unreturned) and has not made any public comment about the incident.

"What triggered this for me was that here we have somebody who has a specific significant role different than the five of us (council members) and that person has been in a situation where extortion or blackmail has been alleged and then never talked about it. No one has clarified that there isn't anything to be alarmed about."

DiVirgilio said he'd rather have a dialog and get answers now rather than be three months down the road and then have to deal with issues arising from the matter.

And what about accusations that he and Bobko are "grandstanding"?

"That seems to be the reaction to every tough dialog we have," he said. "Normal responsible actions of a person in the middle of a mess such as this is to speak up to assuage everybody concerned."

He said that the police report of the incident is "heavily redacted."

"You'd be amazed at how much you're not able to read," he said, adding that he'd like to hear Cohn discuss the matter live and that the city treasurer's lack of comment has caused concern.

City Manager Tom Bakaly told Patch Tuesday that Cohn has been in to work but he's not sure if the treasurer will be at tonight's council meeting since he doesn't have any items on the agenda to report on.

He said that financial reports on the agenda were for "council to receive and file" and that if a council member had a question Finance Director Viki Copeland could answer it.

Cohn is expected to be at the Dec. 11 city council meeting since he is scheduled to give a treasurer's update, said Bakaly.

Bakaly said the city has not had any financial exposure due to Cohn's iPad being stolen.

"As it relates to financial issues, I don't know about city-related documents, but he (Cohn) has no access to online banking or the ability to transfer money or anything like that. That's where we have internal controls in place where we have more than one person who needs to be doing that." 

DiVirgilio said he has heard from about a dozen residents with comments ranging from a "moderate view" that "'this is worrisome'" to "'Should this be the type of person that's responsible for our cash. I hope you do something about it.'" to suggestions that Cohn resign.

"This (what transpired between Cohn and his alleged extortionists one of whom has countered that Cohn assaulted her during the topless massage when she refused to have sex with him) is confusing," said DiVirgilio. "I'm unclear about a lot of the details. I want to make sure city finances aren't jeopardized."

Cohn was elected to the city treasurer slot in Nov. 2011, defeating longtime incumbent John Workman. He is paid $27,750 annually in salary and receives $5,688 in value for benefits that include retirement, Medicare and dental and life insurance said Laura Mecoy, strategic communications advisor with Fiona Hutton & Associates, Inc., the firm hired by the city to handle its public relations.

  • Previously: City Treasurer's Situation Sparks Suspension Talk
  • Previously: City Treasurer's Alleged Massage Turns into Arrests
H. Schwartz November 28, 2012 at 03:16 PM
None of this passes the smell test, Cohn won't comment or return phone calls? W ether this individual had access to online banking or the ability to transfer funds is completely irrelevant to the operative problem. Cohn needs to be removed from office immediately if not sooner. Ask yourself this question, would you approve of him having access to on line banking or the ability to transfer funds from this point on? If your answer is no this man has no business being City treasurer. Conversely, if your answer is yes then he's your man
George Ziegler December 01, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I'm losing confidence in council members who will not insist on disclosures from Mr. Cohn. He is acting like he's going to ride this out. Whether he is culpable or innocent at this juncture is not the point. Mr. Cohn and all other council members have a duty of accountability to the citizens of Hermosa Beach. So far only three out of six have shown integrity in this process as well as saintly patience. The stalling on this issue must stop and must not be abetted by council members who are protecting their colleague. The citizens will have the last word if offending council members are impeached or recalled. Mr. Cohn can not escape accountability nor transparency. It's time for his integrity or lack of it to be displayed. If council tries to shield him from this duty, the voters will answer at the polls.

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