David Cohn
David Cohn

Controversy surrounding embattled Hermosa Beach Treasurer David Cohn continued to swirl this week, as an effort to suspend him was temporarily blocked by the City Council.

Meanwhile, a woman claiming the 72-year-old treasurer assaulted her in his home said she filed a police report detailing the incident.

Citing concerns about the safety of the city's finances in the wake of an extortion attempt against the treasurer, Councilmen Kit Bobko and Michael DiVirgilio sent a letter to city officials earlier this week asking for an emergency resolution ordering the transfer of Cohn's duties to city staff members until a pair of criminal investigations are completed.

Needing four votes to be placed on the agenda for consideration, the emergency resolution failed. Councilman Pete Tucker, along with Bobko and DiVirgilio, voted in support of considering the resolution.

Mayor Jeff Duclos and Councilman Howard Fishman voted against.

"The facts have not yet emerged," Duclos said. "He is entitled to due process."

Hermosa officials have said that no city financial information was compromised in the theft of Cohn's iPad and the alleged extortion attempt against him. City Manager Tom Bakaly said Tuesday that's the city's money is safe.

"Our funds are protected," Bakaly said. "There are internal controls in place."

It is not yet clear what authority the council has in transferring Cohn's duties; the suspension of an elected official is not clearly stated in the city's Municipal Code.


Advertisement

Nevertheless, the council is expected to reconsider the resolution at a Dec. 11 meeting. Cohn is expected to brief the council on the city's investment strategy at the same meeting.

The resolution to suspend Cohn comes as Hermosa Beach police and the Los Angeles County District's Attorney's Office investigate the alleged theft of his iPad and subsequent extortion attempt by a 26-year old masseuse, Yuritsi Garcia, and her boyfriend, Gustavo Ceron. Garcia and Ceron were arrested earlier this month near their rented home in Maywood.

Garcia has since been released on bail, while Ceron remains jailed. The couple will appear in court on Dec. 3.

Cohn claimed Garcia stole the computer tablet after he cut a massage short, according to a heavily redacted police report released to the media after a public records request.

But in an interview with the Daily Breeze, Garcia claimed Cohn gave her the iPad as payment for the topless massage after demanding sex. When she declined, he attempted to assault her and then refused to pay for his massage in full, she said.

Garcia also claimed that Hermosa Beach police refused to file a report detailing her assault claims after she was arrested, instead telling her to file the report with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Interim Hermosa Beach Police Chief Steve Johnson denied Garcia's claim, saying that police contacted the Sheriff's Department immediately to report her assault allegation.

"We went above and beyond to make sure she had a full investigation," Johnson said.

Authorities from the Sheriff's Department were searching for Garcia through the week to get more information on the alleged assault, Johnson said.

Garcia said she was contacted at her Maywood home on Wednesday morning by sheriff's investigators - 15 days after she first claimed to authorities she was the victim of an assault by an elected public official - and filed a police report.

"They took my report and said they would investigate it," Garcia said. "For me, it's been so hard."

Cohn, who was elected in November 2011, campaigned on a new era of transparency and accountability. He collects an annual salary of about $27,750, including retirement and health benefits.

He first contacted Garcia in October for massage services and engaged in phone sex with her three times before inviting her to his home, Garcia said in an interview with the Daily Breeze earlier this month. 

Prior to their first encounter at her Maywood home for a massage, Cohn sent Garcia a sexually explicit video, she said. Garcia said the video was not used to extort money from Cohn.

And as details of the incident emerge, Cohn has remained silent.

Cohn did not attend Tuesday's meeting and has not spoken publicly since the extortion and assault revelations first surfaced. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

As Cohn's silence continues, concerns about him appear to be mounting. Several residents on Tuesday pressed council members to take action.

"The public needs to know what's going on," said resident Judy Garland. "When you have a city official who used such bad judgment you have to wonder what other bad judgments may be out there.

"I think we need to have transparency," she added.

Duclos said he has had limited contact with Cohn, and believed the treasurer was still performing his job managing the city's investment portfolio.

"Certainly, the treasurer's silence feeds into this frenzy and speculation we've been getting," Duclos said. "But what's clear is that the city is not at risk."

douglas.morino@dailybreeze.com

Follow Douglas Morino on Twitter at http://twitter.com/douglasmorino