We Plan the Sting
Damn, Paul Manning muttered, that Hartison jerk always threw a curve. We had the perfect way to expose him, and on TV. The problem now was that he had Mary’s son held hostage, and would be taking Mary with him to the university awards dinner. That’s where he was to be honored and we were going to stage our little takedown.
We had to make some adjustments, and fast.
Mary was Moncrief Hartison’s wife, but in name only. Her son’s real father was James Nelson, who had just come back into the picture. Nelson didn’t want to interfere with Mary, but he did want to meet his son.
Mary was having an affair with my client, Larry Levinson. He was accused of killing his garage manager, Miguel. We knew Hartison had done it but had no proof. We needed Hartison to confess, and to spill the beans about his sleazy parking operation.
We also needed that to be a public confession, so I would earn my fee from a second client, William Jefferson. Hartison had discredited him by using Jefferson’s parking operation to steal and launder money.
Whew … you should be up to speed now.
The entire room realized that Mary may have signed Miguel’s death warrant simply by being his friend. We also realized that with Moncrief Hartison’s jealousy, and the fact that Mary was really having an affair with Larry Levinson, he was next on the gangster’s list.
Mary had called with the latest news. I asked her where they were holding her son, and she told me she was sure that a couple of Hartison’s goons had Roger in her cabin at Arrowhead. They were going to be watching the awards dinner on TV, and if anything went wrong, they were to fill Roger with holes and toss him in the lake.
I told Mary to play along with Hartison; we would handle this problem.
My girlfriend Shirley and I discussed the situation and decided that if we rescued Roger, it had to be right before or during the awards dinner. Hartison had to think he still was in complete control.
The next morning, I called Lt. Bill Vose at the LAPD and shared our little problem. Vose said he could ask the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to pick up Roger. They were fairly skilled at such activities. Their SWAT teams had plenty of experience with drug labs, biker gangs and the like. They could go in, cut the phone lines, grab Roger and arrest Hartison’s goons on whatever schedule we liked. Perfect.
With that problem solved, I needed to talk to my buddy Alex at Channel 5 News. He did live exposes, and loved to get a politician or crooked businessman in the corner with a camera and mike.
The university awards dinner was the next evening. The plan was to lull Hartison into a false sense of security. During the break between the dinner and the presentations, when he was supposed to receive his award and give a substantial donation to the university, we would maneuver him into an interview with Alex.
It would start out slow, and then about halfway through, I would show up with Nelson, the real father of Mary’s son. Hartison thinks I’m Mary’s estranged lover. She would run to my side, plant a kiss on Nelson, and confuse the hell out of Hartison.
His famous temper would kick in, and with just the right questions, Alex would get his story, Vose would get his arrest, Mary and Larry would have their lives free of Hartison, Nelson would be able to spend time with his son, and my bank account would be considerably more healthy.
A side benefit would be that my girlfriend Shirley, who worked for Larry, would be very, very grateful.
Shirley, William Jefferson and I spent the afternoon prepping Alex at Channel 5 News. Jefferson explained how Hartison was able to use his parking operations to line his own pockets.
Jefferson owned the parking company and hired managers and staff to run his individual locations. Hartison would manipulate the hiring process and have his people installed as managers. He would then run the garage as if he owned it, keeping two sets of books. The set his managers turned in to Jefferson would look fine, but the other would be the one that told the truth.
Hartison’s managers had a number of scams going in the garages. The most lucrative was selling monthly parking permits “off the books.” The permits usually ran about $75 a month. However, if the person paid cash, they would get the permit for $50. The managers would limit the number of permits handled this way so as not to arouse suspicion.
But Jefferson felt that he had a problem in 30 locations, and if Hartison’s people did 40 permits in each, they would steal nearly three-quarters of a million dollars a year. And at a time when the Sunday LA Times cost a dime, that was big bucks.
Jefferson also felt that there was considerable shorting going on with the daily parkers. When the driver came in, the cashier would stamp a ticket with the entry time. When that car left, the driver would give the cashier the ticket. He would then compute the fee, charge the customer, and let them go on their way.
There was a system of validations in the building complex. Businesses would buy stamps worth time off the ticket. They would then affix the stamp to the ticket. The receptionist would often put more stamps on the ticket than needed.
The cashier would remove the stamp from that ticket and hold it until another driver came through with no validations. He would charge the driver the full amount, but then put the stamp on the ticket and keep the difference.
Jefferson also noted that used tickets that were stored for four years as required by law were being “riffled,” and used validation stamps were being removed and used again. Same scam, but difficult to find in an audit.
All of this meant a lot of money going directly into Moncrief Hartison’s pockets and not to the operator or the owner of the parking facility.
Miguel, the garage manager, was in on it but got religion when Mary refused to cut a deal on the monthly parkers with her company. She convinced him to go to the police, but Miguel was afraid, so the two of them came to see me, and that’s how this whole thing started.
Hartison killed Miguel when he found out, and Levinson conveniently picked up the weapon in the elevator and nearly convicted himself of murder.
Alex had a lot of good information. Hopefully it was enough to get Hartison to lose it on the air and tell the truth. We were ready. In 24 hours, Moncrief Hartison would be in jail.
I went back to my office in Hollywood; Nelson was waiting for me.
“I went up to the cabin in Arrowhead,” he said, “and it was empty. I can’t reach Mary. We have no idea where Roger is. We will have to stop the sting with Hartison. I can’t risk my son’s life.”
I told him to calm down. I thought about it for a minute and then said: “I have an idea. What if we …”
To be continued …