This story was originally published at 1:09 p.m., and then updated at 6:34 p.m. with comments from City Treasurer David Cohn.
Hermosa Beach City Treasurer David Cohn said during a brief phone interview on Wednesday that he will not step aside and will remain treasurer while a dual criminal investigation plays out surrounding a massage he received in his home Nov. 3.
“I will continue as city treasurer of Hermosa Beach,” Cohn said.
Cohn repeatedly declined comment when asked about the allegations that his masseuse tried to extort him and that he sexually assaulted her.
Referring to his fourth-quarter investment report scheduled to be presented at the City Council’s Dec. 11 meeting, Cohn said, “I think people will be very pleased with the city’s financial report on Dec. 11.”
“I’ve achieved two-thirds of the promises I made during the campaign and plan to achieve the remaining ones in the next two to three months,” said Cohn, who was elected to office in November 2011.
Hermosa Beach Interim Police Chief Steve Johnson said on Wednesday that detectives investigating the sexual assault claim against Cohn have reached out but have not yet been allowed to interview the 26-year-old masseuse making the allegation, Yuritsi Maria Garcia of Maywood.
Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were assigned to the case after Garcia made the claim while she was in custody of Hermosa Beach police on Nov. 14. She was arrested the day before for allegedly trying to extort money from Cohn over the personal contents of his iPad.
Garcia, along with her boyfriend Gustavo Ceron, is charged with stealing Cohn’s iPad Nov. 3 after Cohn cut short a massage inside his home. Garcia, known only as “Diane” to Cohn at the time, left with Ceron who arrived at Cohn’s front door when she texted him, according to a police report.
Garcia, who reportedly wanted $6,000 in exchange for deleting content on the iPad, told the Daily Breeze that Cohn wanted sex during the topless massage and she refused. Garcia’s public defender did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Johnson said Garcia has not yet returned phone messages left by Sheriff’s Department detectives, who have also visited her home and left business cards.
“They have actively been trying to contact her, so they can do the investigation regarding her allegations,” Johnson said. “So far, we’ve had no luck.”
Cohn, who met Garcia through Craigslist on Oct. 26 and was elected to office last year, has come under fire from two members of the City Council. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko and Council member Mike DiVirgilio wanted to discuss the possibility of giving Cohn’s duties to City Manager Tom Bakaly while the dual criminal investigation plays out.
Four out of five council members were needed to place an emergency, last-minute item on Tuesday’s agenda, which would have allowed a discussion of the matter. Although Bobko and DiVirgilio were joined by Council member Peter Tucker, Mayor Jeff Duclos and Council member Howard Fishman opposed, closing the door Tuesday on a discussion of the ramifications for the city regarding the criminal cases involving Cohn.
The item is scheduled to appear on the agenda for the Dec. 11 City Council meeting instead.
“This is a troubling matter that I think we should take control over while it’s being investigated,” Bobko said. “We need to keep a very sharp eye on the city’s finances.”
Bakaly assured the council that the city’s funds remain safe. Cohn’s iPad did not contain city or citizen account information, according to city officials. Bakaly said the city’s annual audit is underway, and he has asked auditors to look over the city’s investments, which is the city treasurer’s main responsibility.
After the meeting, Bakaly said that Cohn appears to be continuing his regular work as treasurer. Duclos said the City Council has limited authority over another publicly elected official such as Cohn.
“There’s a thing called due process, and to act now on speculation seems irresponsible to me,” Duclos said.
Privately, more than one city official said that Cohn’s personal, criminal matter should not generate angst over his professional accountability when it has been established that no city or citizen information was compromised on Cohn’s iPad. Officials also expressed disappointment that Cohn hasn’t addressed the matter publicly in some way, leaving others to field questions.
Four members of the public spoke regarding Cohn. Ray Waters did not support the efforts of Bobko and DiVirgilio to put Cohn on leave.
“I think these guys [Bobko and DiVirgilio] have been after our treasurer since he first got there and they’re using this as an excuse to further their own agendas,” Waters said.
Gary Doane and Manny Serrano said they supported oversight over Cohn, as did Judy Garland, who said she supported Bobko and DiVirgilio’s attempt to discuss the matter Tuesday.
“I think the public needs to know exactly what’s going on,” Garland said.
Kevin Cody contributed to this report.