Officer admits embezzling funds
by Mark McDermott
A former Redondo Beach Police Department sergeant last week pleaded guilty to embezzling from the police union and the department itself.
Gene Tomatani, a 14-year-RBPD veteran, was the head of the Redondo Beach Police Officers Association. He admitted to taking $72,388 from the association and another $3,000 from an RBPD fund. The embezzlement, which occurred over the course of four years, was discovered in late 2008.
Tomatani formerly held two of the most trusted positions within the RBPD, supervising internal affairs and the department’s special investigations unit. Investigations revealed that Tomatani had a gambling problem and had fallen deeply in debt.
Dave Taneman, the current president of the RBPOA, said that Tomatani actions had taken his fellow officers by surprise.
“He did a lot of good things throughout his career,” Taneman said. “But behind the scenes, he had a problem. None of us knew the extent of the problem. He didn’t confide to any of us, or we definitely would have helped.”
Tomatani has already paid $12,000 in restitution. According to the terms of an agreement reached with Superior Court Judge Norm Shapiro and the public integrity division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, he will pay full restitution by his March 15 sentencing date. He is expected to serve three months jail time and three years probation. He will also be required to enlist in a treatment program, Gamblers Anonymous, for at least one year.
Both the POA and the RBPD have tightened their money-handling policies.
RBPD Chief Joe Leonardi said that the RBPD already had policies in place, such as one that requires that at least two police employees be present any time money is handled. But he said a thorough review has been conducted and a more comprehensive policy implemented.
Part of the problem, Leonardi said, was how thoroughly his colleagues trusted Tomatani.
“He was considered very trustworthy within the department as well as by the police association, and I think you can tell that by the fact he was elected to the board not only as treasurer but also as president,” Leonardi said. “He was held in high regard by people that knew him. I think it shows that almost any person is capable of misconduct, and you have to have policies and procedures in place to mitigate it from happening.”
“This is clearly not an example of behavior within the department,” Leonardi added. “And it’s not acceptable.”
Taneman said officers are saddened by fate of their former colleague. Part of his punishment, he noted, is that he will never serve as a police officer again.
“You have some [officers] who are very angry at what he did to us, but most are just disappointed and sad at what happened,” Taneman said. “My own personal feeling is that no one is above the law. Of course, it’s up to the District Attorney to determine what the punishment will be. We didn’t’ tell the DA what we wanted for punishment – we just wanted our money back…we want to get closure.” ER