Cody Cluff has pleaded no contest to embezzling public funds while he headed the Entertainment Industry Development Corp.
In a plea Monday before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler, Cluff agreed to repay $80,000. The plea agreement also calls for Cluff to surrender by June 21 for a 90-day prison term, during which the Dept. of Corrections will assess whether he should remain in prison for up to three years or be released on probation.
Cluff headed the EIDC from its founding in 1995 until resigning in late 2002 amid the embezzlement probe, which alleged he had spent $150,000 of EIDC funds for personal use including strip clubs, cigar clubs, sporting events, a fantasy baseball camp in the Dominican Republic and donations to Covina High School, where his children attended. He was also accused of spending EIDC money to establish a film office in Pittsburgh.
Cluff had insisted the spending was necessary to lure film production to Los Angeles and legal since the EIDC was a private entity. The District Attorney’s Office had contended the EIDC — created by merging the city and county film offices to expedite film permitting on public property — was a public entity.
“This is a huge victory for the taxpayers of Los Angeles County,” said District Attorney Steve Cooley in a prepared statement. “A very important point has been made in terms of public trust and holding officials accountable, and a bright line has been drawn in terms of what is a public entity.”
The 11-count grand jury indictment against Cluff was returned last August. EIDC general manager Darryl Seiff was also indicted on two counts for improperly obtaining city of Los Angeles badges and is due to return to court June 9.
The district attorney also said that by admitting the money was public and entering the plea, Cluff will be prohibited from holding public office. A sentencing date for Cluff has not been set yet.
The Cluff scandal began nearly two years ago when district attorney investigators stunned showbiz by raiding EIDC’s Hollywood office and Cluff’s two homes.
Subsequent probe into alleged misuse of $700,000 in EIDC funds led to revelations of $200,000 in political contributions and a litany of lavish spending including $350 bottles of wine, premium tickets to Laker games and concerts, a $5,000 donation to the booster club where his children attended high school and trips with Dawn Keezer, head of the Pittsburgh film office.
After the indictment, Cluff’s attorney, Mark Werksman, had contended, “You can’t entertain film and record producers with brown-bag lunches.” Citing Cluff’s track record of attracting production to Los Angeles, he also said Cooley was “playing ‘gotcha’ with a handful of trivial expenses.”
As for the EIDC, it tapped veteran city official Steve MacDonald as its new prexy in March to take over from former studio exec Lindsley Parsons Jr., who was interim president after Cluff stepped.
During Parsons’ tenure, the EIDC overhauled itself to be a nonprofit private corporation empowered to act as a contractor to the city and county to coordinate film permitting. The EIDC cut 16 slots for its board to operate with a smaller, 33-member board of industry and union reps and instituted tightened financial oversight.