Two Hermosa Beach councilmen are pushing to suspend City Treasurer David Cohn's authority to manage public funds until an investigation into an alleged extortion attempt and audit of city finances has been completed.
In a letter sent to Hermosa Beach City Manager Tom Bakaly on Monday, Councilmen Kit Bobko and Michael DiVirgilio said they are concerned about the recent criminal allegations surrounding Cohn and the impact those allegations could have on city finances.
"Clearly, Mr. Cohn is in a sensitive position," Bobko said. "He just negotiated with banks over the transfer of millions of city dollars. Now we learn he was the victim of an alleged crime where he was in a position to be blackmailed.
"The goal is to make sure everybody money's safe," Bobko added.
As the city's treasurer, Cohn manages the city's investment portfolio and advises the council on financial matters. Cohn was elected in November 2011.
The request by Bobko and DiVirgilio is expected to be discussed at tonight's council meeting.
The letter comes just over a week after revelations first surfaced publicly that Cohn, 72, had his iPad stolen by a woman and her boyfriend after receiving a massage on Nov. 3 in his Hermosa Beach home.
The couple, 26-year-old Yuritsi Garcia and 29-year-old Gustavo Ceron, were later arrested at a Chase bank near their Maywood home by Hermosa Beach police after agreeing to deliver the tablet computer back to Cohn in exchange for $6,000.
The couple face felony extortion charges. Ceron remains jailed, while Garcia was released on bail. They are scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 3.
Cohn told police that Garcia had stolen his iPad 2 after he cut short a one-hour massage, according to a report released last week by Hermosa Beach police after a public records request. After realizing the device had been stolen, Cohn called and texted Garcia demanding the iPad back, but she refused unless he deposited money in her bank account.
But in an interview with the Daily Breeze last week, Garcia said Cohn gave her the iPad after he refused to pay her in full for the massage. Garcia, a mother of two young children, said Cohn asked her for sex during the massage and then attempted to grab her, forcing her to retreat to his bathroom and call Ceron, who was waiting outside the house.
Garcia said the iPad contained pictures of Cohn's family and friends. Laura Mecoy, a city-hired public relations consultant, said last week the iPad did not contain any city-related correspondence or documents, and no resident account information had been compromised.
Cohn and Garcia first connected through Craigslist after Garcia posted an ad offering deep tissue and sensual massages, Garcia said.
After her arrest, Garcia said she tried to make a police report detailing the assault allegations, but Hermosa Beach police refused, instead telling her to report the crime with her local police agency in Maywood. However, she did not follow up.
The alleged iPad theft and massage incident has sparked two criminal investigations.
The extortion case is being handled by Hermosa Beach police.
Last week, Bakaly and interim Police Chief Steve Johnson asked investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to look into the assault claims made by Garcia.
"It was done to ensure an independent review of the claims made by the woman," Bakaly said.
Meanwhile, Cohn has remained silent. He has not responded to repeated phone messages and emails requesting comment. And on Monday, a knock on the door of his Sixth Street house went unanswered.
Deputy Treasurer Maria Ghassemi said Cohn had called periodically to check in through the past week but had not been to his office at City Hall.
Bakaly said he has not had any recent contact with Cohn.
"His job is to invest the city's funds, and at the end of day he would need to come in here," said Bakaly, who noted he typically sees Cohn a couple of times a week. "But my assumption would be that he is doing his job as normal."
The city's fourth-quarter investment report is scheduled to be detailed by Cohn at the council's Dec. 11 meeting.
Meanwhile, Bobko and DiVirgilio said Monday they have heard from residents who are troubled by the allegations surrounding the treasurer and the potential impact they could have on the city.
"I think people are unnerved and concerned about the allegations and worried about how they will impact the community and municipality," DiVirgilio said. "Those are fair things to be concerned with."
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