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Thief gives Oscar-worthy performance

What would the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Academy Awards be without the gold Oscars? What if just before the Academy Awards the little Oscar statuettes were stolen?

That’s what happened in 2000. Here’s the story.

On March 13, 2000, the director of Motion Picture Academy suspected that the Oscar statuettes, which had just been shipped from the manufacturer in Chicago, were missing and possibly stolen. How do you pawn an Oscar?



Los Angeles Police Department detectives and Roadway Express Shipping began an investigation. They reviewed video tapes and shipping manifests and determined that the Oscars had been stolen from the L.A. Roadway facility on the morning of March 8.

The detectives started zeroing in on Roadway employee Anthony Hart, who had a prior theft record. They deduced that the heist of the 500 pound wooden pallet containing the Oscars would have had to have been done by at least two parties ” a truck driver and a forklift operator. Wouldn’t you know, Hart was a forklift driver for Roadway.



The detectives announced to the Roadway employees that they would get $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of the Oscar thieves. That generated anonymous calls with incriminating information. The calls poured in when the reward was increased to $50,000.

An attorney named Daniel Pearson called Roadway leaving a message that he wanted the $50,000 reward for the return of the Oscar statuettes, which a client had given to him. Pearson failed to consider that only the Roadway employees knew about the reward, which meant Pearson was in on the heist. It was later learned Pearson was Hart’s brother-in-law. This was not the perfect crime.

Ultimately, Roadway truck driver Larry Ledent confessed to stealing the Oscars with Hart.

LAPD and the Academy issued a joint press release announcing the recovery of the Oscars and the arrest of Hart and Ledent. Hart was fired by Roadway. However, the district attorney’s office refused to charge Hart citing insufficient evidence.

A few months later, with the development of more evidence, Hart and Ledent were charged with grand theft and receiving stolen property.

The evidence included telephone records between Hart and Ledent at the time of the theft, statements of several Roadway employees that they had seen Hart commit the crime, connections between Hart and attorney Pearson, witness statements that Hart had two of the Oscars, security tapes showing Hart loading a pallet into Ledent’s truck the night of the heist, the confession of Larry Ledent, and the testimony of another Roadway employee that he had Hart’s Oscars at his house.

Following plea bargaining between the district attorney’s office and Hart’s hard-driving, famous attorney Stephen Yagman, who made a career suing law enforcement officers for civil rights violations, Hart pled nolo contedre (no contest) to the charge of receiving stolen property. The grand theft charge was dropped.

Amazingly, at least from where I’m sitting, Hart received a sentence of three years probation. No jail time. And he had a prior theft record!

But now for the best part. On Hart’s behalf, Yagman sued the LAPD, the detectives, and everyone remotely connected to Hart’s arrest ” for a violation of his constitutional civil rights. He was arrested in his home without a search warrant and he was arrested without probable cause.

Let me explain again. A known thief, caught on tape stealing an entire pallet of Oscar statuettes pleads no contest to the charge of receiving stolen property, then sues the detectives and the LAPD for a violation of his civil rights. What has this country come to?

In the end, the federal court of appeal ruled that Hart was arrested outside of his house, not in his house, and there was ample evidence he had probably committed a crime. Probable cause justifying his arrest.

In a footnote to the Hart case, attorney Stephen Yagman was indicted two weeks ago on charges of evading payment of more than $100,000 in federal income taxes. Yagman appeared in court sun tanned and wearing a pastel pink polo shirt. If the government wins its case against Yagman, he could face ten years in federal prison for each of several money laundering counts. He would lose that tan.

Yagman called the 19 counts against him “politically motivated, retaliatory charges.”

It gets worse. Yagman just completed a year’s suspension from the practice of law for collecting exorbitant fees, the second time since being admitted to the California Bar in 1976.

We will see how Yagman fairs with the feds. There is no love lost between them. Not my kind of guy.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter and Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or at the firm’s web site http://www.portersimon.com.

© 2006

the firm’s web site http://www.portersimon.com.

© 2006


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