Since council candidate Will Rogers has put his own bio out there for everyone to see — or as Fronnie framed it so well yesterday, is getting it out there in front of everyone else so as to put his own spin on it — we thought it’d be fun to see what he was all about. We’ll also add a little bit about what we know, too, and what came out about this story years ago. It might be interesting.
So here’s Will on his shady past– or at least, his shady 1980 past. We’ll interject when needed:
Several times over the years I’ve either just published a story that exposed some dishonesty or deceit on the part of a politician, candidate or official, or I’ve been on the brink of running such a story, and I got a predictable call or message. Sometimes it was a friend or supporter of the story’s subject. Occasionally it was the office holder or candidate themselves. But most often it was someone who didn’t identify themselves. What all of them shared in common was the message they relayed, something along the lines of, “Drop this, or I’m going to tell your secret and humiliate you!”
When the contact allowed for one, my response was always the same: “What, you mean about my being arrested in 1980?”
That’s right, the guy who reported on others being indicted, arrested, never attending the colleges they claimed to have graduated from, even one who’d literally abandoned a wife and children, that guy was himself arrested just over 35 years before Burbank’s next Primary Election Day.
Not only were the charges serious, I admitted guilt, and spent time in jail.
Isn’t this a heinous double-standard, an example of gross hypocrisy? Nope.
OK, let’s stop right here. No Will, it kind of is hypocritical and inconsistent, because when you have something like this under your belt you automatically lose the right to pass moral judgement on others.
There’s nothing wrong with criticizing people, or questioning them politically, or subjecting them to savage inspection about what they’re saying and doing, especially if it’s harmful. But to castigate them on any and all issues of “character” is verbotten. Sorry about that.
For the most part, the scandals I reported on either took place while the subject of the story was on the campaign trail, or already in office – not 35 years earlier. Another point that distinguishes my case from others is that the others involved flatly denied whatever it was. “There was never any arrest. It’s a lie!” “I don’t own property next to that project. It’s a lie!” And so forth.
As several former candidates and office holders out there can attest, when they publicly disclosed whatever it was, I not only routinely dismissed the supposed scandal – certainly if it was several years old – I defended them, at least on that point, when others would try to flog the embarrassing information. As far as I’ve been concerned, if they acknowledged whatever it was, I generally moved on. What inevitably became a story for me was the candidate who, despite public records, despite lines of witnesses speaking for the record, despite even video tape proof and (in a couple of instances) sworn affidavits and so much more, would still insist the information reflecting badly on them was all a political/partisan/personal/ethnic/religious attack created from whole cloth by an enemy in the media. Yeah, then I went to town.
See how Rogers tries to change the subject here by suddenly going after others for information “reflecting badly” on them? Wasn’t this supposed to be his mea culpa?
That’s classic Rogers. It’s also stupendous in its vagary. Like, what the hell is he talking about specifically?
While the news about me may be a surprise to you, I told the man who hired me for my first regular newspaper job, Jeff Prugh, all about it the day I was hired. Prugh was the Editor of what today is called Times Community News, then encompassing the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and the Foothill Leader. At the time he asked for and received copies of all the documentation on the case.
As we pointed out earlier, Prugh’s dead, and so he can’t verify this story. And it’s not what we were told about Times management knowledge later on in 1996, when we first heard this story after Susan Spanos’ lawyers uncovered the details. And again, wouldn’t this have come out during the initial job interviews, and not the day he was hired?
In the years that followed, I discussed it with some of the editors who later replaced Prugh, and with lawyers for the LA Times. As time went on, and the list of award-winning stories revealing the conflicts of interest and/or false claims for local pols began to accumulate, I took Prugh’s initial advice to inoculate myself from the threats of blackmail by mentioning my own record in columns. I’d talk about it during a Q&A session when I was invited to talk to a service club, and when a reader urged me to run for office back then, I often told them about my arrest in 1980, and how it would be used by opponents.
And still probably will be. Let’s continue:
Several years ago I was asked to perform a one-man stage show as a benefit for a charitable nonprofit in Burbank, and I used it as an opportunity to tell a few hundred people at a time about the experience. When the same charity asked for another show the following year, I made the story a centerpiece of a 45 minute segment in the performance.
I’d told my wife about the arrest before we were engaged. Some of the threats to “out” my supposed secret specifically referenced my kids, but I told each of them about it as soon as I thought they were old enough to understand. They’ve heard about it many more times over the years since, as I’ve used it to illustrate an array of lessons learned.
Still, there has always been someone who hasn’t yet heard, and after they’ve invested some money on an investigator, or sent a pal downtown to page through records, the calls, or emails, or letters in block printing have continued to come, though obviously with far less frequency today than 10 or 20 years ago. And having seen election campaigns up-close-and-personal for 25 years now, as the election nears I fully expect to see a mailer sent out by a previously unheard of – and likely unregistered – political action committee offering the “shocking” 35 year old news.
I was arrested in Hollywood on April 4, 1980. I’d been seen exiting a then-closed department store where I was working security all night. I’d stepped into an alley with a friend who’d joined me to smoke a marijuana cigarette. Stacked near the door were several items I’d intended to take home with me in the morning, including socks and pants I planned to take without paying for. But when we’d gone outside well after midnight that night, the entire agenda was smoking a joint where the odor wouldn’t be noticed inside the next day.
Ok. In our book this is kind of aggressive and nervy, but then we used to get nervous taking a 12-minute coffee break when it was only supposed to be 10. But then we also weren’t stacking merchandise near the door to steal for home, nor would we have done it this way if we were.
I’d worked in “Loss Prevention” for the now-defunct Broadway department stores since shortly after I’d moved from Minnesota. I was very good at the job, and was soon making record numbers of arrests. My boss approached me about taking over his job if his request for transfer to a store nearer his house came through. Then one day I was headed off to work and realized I didn’t have clean socks. I left home without socks, and once at work went down to the men’s department, selected a pair and put them on.
To a 23 year old shmuck, it seemed an ingenious solution. And I resorted to repeating it several more times. Early on I rationalized these and similar stunts with a vague internal argument that I’d show my bosses they were oblivious to enormous gaps in their security. Despite female employees being compelled to use clear plastic purses, and the males being forbidden from carrying backpacks and bags, I could show them dozens of ways employees could easily slip merchandise, especially clothing, out of the store. It wasn’t until after my arrest, when I tried explaining this rationale out loud and to a live person, that I confronted the fact that it was a crock. I’d been taking stuff without paying for it, and my excuse was absurd.
We were raised to think it was absurd from the beginning, but then what do we know? Keep in mind here that he’s admitting he was taking more than just socks. It’ll come up in a bit.
Simultaneous to this, I was an occasional “social” smoker of marijuana. By my definition that meant I’d go a month or two without even seeing marijuana, and then on a Friday night with friends I’d happily partake. But upon arriving in California I was astounded at what those selling marijuana charged for the product compared to what I was accustomed to back home.
Again, and as you can see I’ve already established myself as a genius at 23, I had a brilliant idea. A friend from outside California was coming to visit me, he lived someplace with much lower prices, and I asked him to bring a substantial amount so I could pay the lower price. It was agreed he’d provide the same service for a mutual friend, a former Minnesota roommate of mine then living nearby. For the two of us to split, we settled on buying one pound.
Hold on. Why would an “occasional” smoker even consider doing this? Unless it’s all about the hustle.
The former roommate and I briefly discussed selling some of that “order,” with the difference in prices obviously meaning a profit. But THAT was a step we weren’t willing to take. I don’t claim high moral standards on the point. We knew the penalties for possession were not as draconian and serious as those for selling. We had no idea how to even start, suspected we didn’t know enough people, and we were terrified at the prospect of being caught. Instead, we declared we’d be perfectly content just keeping and being generous with what we then viewed as surely a lifetime supply of marijuana. As things turned out, it nearly was that.
Sorry again, but occasional smokers don’t sell. They don’t have to.
A short time later my out-of-town friend turned up for what he thought would be his excellent vacation in California. But as I paid him the money owed for his delivery, I gave him some bad news. My boss had called earlier to let me know I’d be working that night – all night.
Now why was this bad news? We’re never quite filled in on that…
In recent weeks The Broadway stores had been plagued by a series of dramatic robberies. It was a hallmark of the chain that the jewelry departments were on the first floor and near the doors. Late at night, winding up a stolen car to high speed, the thieves would violently crash through the front doors. They leapt from the vehicle, used hammers and other tools to smash cabinets and drawers in the fine jewelry department, and grabbed all the jewelry put away for the night. The crime was repeated throughout Southern California. As I recall (and this WAS 35 years ago), the “smash and grabbers” then ran outside to a waiting car, disappearing minutes after crashing through the doors, long before police arrived.
You recall everything else here after 35 years? But not that choice a detail?
I was told an all out effort was being made to catch or identify the thieves. Remember, this was decades before ubiquitous and inexpensive security cameras everywhere. Part of the huge effort would see security staff installed all night in as many as 20 California stores on the same night. We were directed to stay out of sight, and if our store was hit, we had access to a central communications system to relay descriptions, license plate numbers, and so forth.
I assured my friend this change in plans didn’t have to ruin the first night of his visit. After all, he could spend it in the center of Hollywood! I brought him to work with me, put him in my office until the store had closed and emptied, and then we had the whole of “Broadway Hollywood” to ourselves. It began with a trip to the roof to see the enormous, iconic neon sign that today still overlooks Hollywood.
So why didn’t the friend just stay home that first night? What was the imperative behind bringing him to work? There wasn’t one — unless Rogers needed an accomplice.
I was certain my store was unlikely to be hit by the team hitting all the others. Unlike the mall and suburban stores hit previously, the streets outside Broadway Hollywood were never quiet and empty. It was at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, plus a busy LAPD station was 4 blocks away! Still, if the thieves showed up – and except for the visit to the roof – I was never more than a few seconds from a hidden perch overlooking the fine jewelry department, and I could perform my duty.
Eventually, though, came the idea to go outside to smoke. We stepped out in the back alley and lit up. We were there a moment or two before I noticed a ratty pick-up truck with a camper on the back parked on Vine St. It started, and the lights came on. It pulled into the alley and I immediately recognized it. It belonged to a store detective who frequently used it when he worked with a particular female partner.
That’s approximately when I learned the all-out effort to catch the smash and grab crew also had security teams stationed outside all the stores. I turned my pal around, sent him into the store and relocked the doors. I told him to hide, and to never, ever reappear.
It was probably another 15 minutes before the LAPD arrived, and they entered the store with the security team from the pick-up truck. I was immediately handcuffed, asked what I’d done with all the jewelry stolen in recent weeks, and where my partner was. I actually laughed at the first question, and said I didn’t know what they were talking about with the second.
Ok, now we’ve jumped the shark. Even assuming that Will was misidentified by the outside patrol, or seen with a friend smoking outside, why didn’t he just show the LAPD that he was on security that night? We’ve jumped the gun here on something– it also makes no sense to send the friend back inside when he could just take off instead. There’s about three paragraphs worth of story here that’s suddenly missing…
I spent the next several hours being questioned at the Hollywood Station. I admitted to everything I’d taken, but vehemently denied any role in an elaborate production described by the store security team who claimed to have watched multiple furtive trips to my car, merchandise being loaded, and much more. I also continued to scoff at being implicated in the jewelry thefts. Eager to show how cooperative I was, I gave the police permission to search my apartment for evidence regarding the jewelry thefts, or any other stolen items.
So what then did the security patrol in the old truck see? If Rogers was NOT loading mdse in a trunk somewhere, why were they calling the cops? Why would they say such a thing? Sure they could have seen him smoking, but what else did they see? It had to be something behind this — but alas, again, Will leaves this part out.
There’s probably a good reason for that, which we’ll get to in a minute:
It was at about the time we walked in my the front door that I remembered a certain paper bag filled with marijuana sitting on my coffee table. I tried to remember from my Constitutional Law classes whether a search with permission “narrowed the scope,” and if “plain sight” applied to opening a paper bag. I knew the marijuana would be found and taken, but I couldn’t remember if I could be charged for it.
I’d gotten excellent grades on my case briefs for the classes, but on that day of a real test I earned an “F.”
NOTE: in another paper he says he only went to art school in Chicago and then back to community college in Minnesota. So where were these law classes? (if he has a degree from somewhere he never says so in his bio)
Joining police in the search of my home was the store’s security team, and they declared that virtually every item in my apartment was stolen property. Everything in my house was taken as evidence, with the exception of books – which were nonetheless searched, the now-disassembled shelves they were on, and food. The loss that concerned me most was my typewriter, with which I’d recently written the first article I’d sold as a free lance writer. But almost everything else went as well, from my camera to my shoes, from my blender to my forks, spoons and knives.
Well that they’ll do. But we heard a different story, and it’s one that makes much more sense. Rogers also doesn’t say what he did with all the stuff he stole.
The story we heard was that they had been suspicious of Rogers for some time, and so Broadway security got a warrant to go to his apt. and inspect. With the cops in tow they went in and immediately found stolen merchandise in his closet which included lots of clothing with the price tags still attached. Peculiar to these items was that the tags had been retained in such a way that the merchandise could be secreted past any store security quite easily and yet still returned for cash.
The suspicion thus became that Rogers was stealing merchandise from the Broadway so that he (or someone else) could then turn around and fence it back to the store chain for cash.
So the story we heard later on comports with the security staff’s behavior that night, and their calling the police. Rogers’ version doesn’t. We also heard they suspected he’d been dealing drugs to other employees. Which — with a half-pound of weed sitting around — doesn’t exactly sound wacky.
Does anyone honestly believe that Will would suddenly think to start selling pot one day, and then order up a pound of it the first time?
We were in the midst of a long holiday weekend, and while that made it harder for me to arrange bail, it also complicated sending me into the county jail system. I remained at the Hollywood Station for about 36 hours before I arranged bail. At about the time I was being released, a few blocks away my friend still hiding inside the store decided the waves of police officers and search dogs had probably left. He emerged from a hiding place two floors below the basement level, made his way to the public sales floors, and then walked out the door like a customer. He managed to walk to my apartment in North Hollywood, picked up his suitcase and headed for LAX.
The store security team had staked out the apartment after the search, and later reported to police that someone had turned up, left with luggage – presumably filled with stolen jewelry kept in a hiding place not found in the search – and immediately proceeded to the airport where they speculated he was heading out of the country to fence the loot. They apparently didn’t identify him, and didn’t learn he was attempting to see if his return ticket good for a few days later could be used immediately to go back home.
I remained free on bail and set about finding a new job. It was only a short time before I found work as a clerk in an economics research firm. But in the mean time, I was hiring a lawyer and plea negotiations got underway.
From the start I was offered a chance at a single misdemeanor charge if I would name whomever had sold me the marijuana, and testify against him. Because I’d told police the whole story (leaving out mention of the former roommate, and our delivery man’s name), they surmised that my supplier could be charged with interstate transportation of drugs, and then compelled to turn over whomever had sold to him.
There was a delivery man? We thought Will was new to this!
I declined the offer repeatedly, and it appeared felony charges for theft, burglary and “possession for sale” were inevitable. But my penchant for documentation, along with a certain degree of common sense, were beginning to help convince prosecutors to look at the theft charges in a different light. With cancelled checks, credit card records and receipts, I was slowly managing to prove I had legitimately purchased much of what had been taken from my apartment. In other instances, I was able to prove the store never carried items supposedly stolen from it.
For his own possessions perhaps, sure. But why else would they think he had stolen so much but for the tagged merchandise found in his apartment?
It was eventually agreed I would plead to a single felony charge. In August, 1980 I pleaded nolo contendere (No Contest) to Felony Possession of Marijuana, and I was sentenced to 120 days, with a recommendation for work furlough (this meant going to work during the day and reporting to jail at night). My new employers were aware of my case, and had communicated with both the judge and the probation department to say they would support me. After completing the sentence, I’d also be on probation for three years.
How do you get jobs like that? The guy must be a great hustler. Rest assured, it would never happen now.
Unfortunately, the clerk in Dept 131 where I was sentenced confused the charge to which I’d pleaded and instead listed the two charges that were dropped (burglary and theft). It took another court appearance a short time later to have that rectified. But during that second appearance, it was belatedly discovered that my pleading to the marijuana charge would disqualify me for the work furlough program.
Someone recalled that, at least at that time, those with drug convictions were not permitted in the program. All parties agreed I could make the same plea to the theft charge, or burglary, allowing me to qualify for work furlough. I chose the theft charge believing, bad as it was, it didn’t “sound” as bad as burglary.
It wasn’t until I was in custody and being processed in the days following the sentencing that it was learned the probation department which oversaw the work furlough program had recently-implemented yet another policy. Work furlough was not permitted for ANY arrestee whose circumstances of arrest involved possession of drugs, regardless of whether there was a conviction for that possession. I was shipped off to the LA County jail in Castaic, known then as “Wayside Honor Rancho.” Further, because I’d been a resident of California for less than one year at the time of arrest, procedure dictated I was a flight risk. This meant I was not held in the cabin-like dorms and working outside on what was then a farm. Instead, I was held in the maximum security facility.
There was not the overcrowding in county jails that today sees non-violent offenders serving just one, two or three days before being released. But with credits for work and “good behavior,” I was released after serving half of my sentence. I was placed on probation, ordered to report weekly at first, and then monthly. I also underwent drug testing.
I eventually obtained a court order for the return of many of the items seized from my apartment. The LAPD promptly handed over what police had, but some of it had been turned over to the security team from The Broadway, and those offices reported that my property had turned up missing from their evidence lockers. After another court order, The Broadway had to issue me a check for the purchase value of the missing items.
Between legal fees and bail, lost work, a replacement job that paid less, and then paying rent on an apartment while in jail, with the loss of liberty, and the loss of possessions, came a financial collapse. With no one to blame but myself, I’d lost my car, my credit and – for years to come – whatever credibility I might have once had.
In April, 1982 my probation officer recommended I be released from probation. At a hearing in July the judge agreed, and in an act of sleight-of-hand provided under California law, the charge against me was officially reduced to a misdemeanor and then formally dismissed, with an order that my record be “expunged.” But, as I knew at the time and was reminded that day, there is no such thing as a record truly being erased, at least not for the average person. As I was told then, “There’s no one whose job it is to go back and do that.” Still, I was notified all of my rights had been restored, I was free to vote, perform jury duty, and purchase a firearm. I was also told that, after July 1982, when asked on any form whether I’ve ever been arrested, I am legally permitted under penalty of perjury to answer “no.” I rarely do that, however, because I’ve seen far too many ways it could come back and bite me on the backside.
I had never been arrested or charged with any crime previous to April, 1980, and haven’t been in the 35 years since. What I have done in the years since includes getting married, raising two children now in college, and whatever it is that leads to a jury summons turning up in the mail virtually every year.
Five years ago, when I reached the 30th anniversary of my arrest, I made a small ceremony of shredding most of the documents I had related to my case. But I know others are still out there because, even still, a copy of a charge sheet or booking slip will turn up in the mail, or land in a fax. If you’d like to see one, there’s no need to head downtown and start paying the county’s absurd copying fee. Just wait. One may turn up in your mailbox in the next few weeks.
Ha ha ha.
This is a real convenient out, isn’t it? To destroy all the relevant documents — which would be crazy to do anyway, for the very reason he’s stating -- because then you can always claim that the swapped-convictions story is as you say it is?
Remember though, this is the same Will Rogers who once said years ago– in response to criticism that he was making up charges against a political foe — that he had strong documentary evidence on the guy. But when challenged to produce this same proof, he then turned around and claimed — a bit later, in one of his columns — that some nefarious critic or crank or friend of the accused had known that he was going to be at some city hearing or another one night, and that because his security system at home also happened not to be working at the exact same time, that critic (or one of his cronies) had thus been able to go in and steal the incriminatory paperwork from one of his many storage boxes. Because it was now missing.
What a gift of gab this guy has.