Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
More than a year-and-a-half after Scott Schaffer's release from a 13-month prison sentence for pleading guilty to trading guns for drugs with street-gang affiliates — a conspiracy he maintains he did not commit — the former Burbank cab company owner and City Hall socialite turned pariah found himself back in a downtown Los Angeles federal courtroom Monday, this time over allegations he violated conditions of his parole.
The gregarious Schaffer, 56, faced returning to prison for up to four months over out-of-state trips made in July 2009 and August of this year to assist his ailing 88-year-old father, who is dying of colon cancer.
But after Schaffer apologized and admitted to traveling without obtaining proper permissions, U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter apparently felt Schaffer had significantly reformed himself — ruling instead that his five-year probation term be shortened nearly two years.
Without objection from prosecutors, Walter ordered Schaffer to report in January to a residential recover center for a term of 60 days, allowing him the possibility of one last visit with his father, and after which Schaffer's probation would be terminated.
"It's time you put the past behind you and move on with your life," Walter said after acknowledging Schaffer's success with substance abuse treatment.
But letting go hasn't been all that easy for Schaffer.
On the evening before his hearing, Schaffer said that at the time of his July 2005 arrest and interrogation he was threatened and bullied by Burbank police officers — namely some of those recently fired as a result of probes into police misconduct — who he claims exaggerated and mischaracterized his actions, as well as those of former Mayor Stacey Murphy, his girlfriend at the time.
Schaffer believes that he and Murphy, who pleaded guilty to drug possession and child endangerment charges after investigators found firearms and cocaine residue at her home, were targets of a vicious scheme to make a high-profile example of being tough on crime.
"I think it's malicious what they did," said Schaffer, who acknowledged Monday in court that he has spoken twice with FBI agents during their ongoing investigation of police misconduct in Burbank.
While he admits to abusing alcohol and cocaine, Schaffer denies that he ever traded weapons for drugs to members of the Vineland Boys street gang, which a federal task force implicated in the November 2003 murder of Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka — a tragedy that is thought to have sparked abuses of authority within the department.
Instead, Schaffer claims that while on a bender at Pat's Cocktail Lounge on Riverside Drive he gifted two guns from his 19-piece collection to drinking buddies who occasionally provided him with small amounts of cocaine, but who he did not suspect had any gang affiliation.
"I was a people-pleasing idiot. I didn't trade guns for drugs. I was under tremendous pressure and stress and was incredibly stupid. It doesn't excuse me, but it's not OK to rewrite what happened," he said.
"I am guilty of alcohol abuse and doing cocaine to the extent that I could keep drinking. My drinking was so bad," recalled Schaffer, who said he began seeking treatment for depression and addiction prior to his arrest.
More than the loss of his freedom, fortune and reputation, Schaffer says he most of all laments hurting Murphy, who broke off contact after their arrests.
"I love Stacey and her children. Truth is, she didn't do [expletive], and they didn't deserve to have to deal with any of this," he said.
Do you believe Schaffer's side of the story? Send me your thoughts by Monday for inclusion in next week's installment of Olive Avenue Confidential.
JOE PIASECKI is an Annenberg Fellow with USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a contributing editor for the Pasadena Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.