2013-01-30 / Front Page

Sheriff's booster club denies misuse of funds

By John Loesing

    The sexual harassment investigation against Capt. Joseph Stephen of Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station has been expanded to include an Internal Affairs probe that could involve the alleged misuse of private funds given to the station by a nonprofit community booster club.
    Stephen was placed on paid leave of absence last month following an investigation of charges by a deputy who claims she was the victim of sexual coercion by her superiors. According to sheriff’s spokesperson Steve Whitmore, the probe is investigating Stephen, retired Chief Ronnie Williams and Capt. Anthony Ward.  
    According to Whitmore, the female deputy was not under Stephen’s command at the time and faces a pending felony charge of vandalism and misdemeanor counts of battery in San Bernardino County. He said the deputy pleaded not guilty and is currently on leave from the department without pay.
    During the investigation, Stephen came under heavy attack by Ronda Hampton, a psychologist assisting the family of Mitrice Richardson, the woman who was arrested and released by sheriff’s deputies following an unpaid restaurant bill incident in Malibu in 2009. Richardson disappeared when she left the Lost Hills jail and her body was found a year later in the Monte Nido area of Calabasas.
    Stephen, a 27-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, became captain at the Malibu/Lost Hills station on Agoura Road in Calabasas early in 2010. He succeeded Capt. Tom Martin, who bore the brunt of the Richardson public relations fiasco that consumed the Lost Hills station.
    Hampton said Stephen got the captain’s job “because he was African American and there was some racial tension in that community.”
    After Stephen was relieved of his duties in the current scandal, Hampton sent two emails to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, one last month and one this month, questioning Stephen’s “possible sexual misconduct and misappropriation of Booster Club funds” relating to parties and prostitution while he attended the 2012 Baker to Vegas Relay, a law enforcement fundraising run.
    Police officers, probation officers, district attorneys, civilian police personnel—and deputies from the sheriff’s department including Lost Hills—compete in the 120-mile annual race from Baker, CA to Las Vegas, Nev.
    “Please note that these allegations are being put forth by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, which is why I am not easily dismissing these statements,” Hampton said in her letter to Baca.
    Whitmore said the Internal Affairs investigation will “get to the bottom” of the allegations against Stephen.
    Daniel Stern, a board member with the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Foundation since it was founded in 2003, called the Las Vegas allegations “unfounded.”
    “There’s no truth to that,” Stern said.
    The foundation booster club raises about $50,000 a year for the Lost Hills station. The money is used, among other things, to buy equipment for the sworn officers, Stern said.
    Over the years, the foundation has purchased first aid kids, specialized gym equipment for officers suffering from back and knee problems due to their work, and other items such as digital recorders used in making traffic stops.
    Only some of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s 23 stations have booster clubs.
    “This is one station where you feel the love of the community,” Dep. Shawn Brownell, the sheriff’s booster club representative, told The Acorn in a previous story about the organization.
    Stern doubts that the investigation of Stephen will hurt the foundation’s efforts going forward, but he admitted he didn’t know for certain what the future held in terms of fundraising.
    “We’ve had strong supporters in the past,” Stern said. “At the end of the day any allegations made against Capt. Stephen will be dealt with by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and we have nothing to do with that.”
    Sylvie Belmond and Stephanie Bertholdo contributed to this story.

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