Outside counsel hired to investigate cover-up allegations.
By Sam Catanzaro
Eric Wess Uller, a City of Santa Monica Employee, has been arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) on charges of Lewd Acts with a Minor relating to a series of alleged molestation incidents between 1986 and as late as 2017. At the time of printing, the total number of victims is ten, after six additional victims came forward this week.
“The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced today that six additional victims have come forward, and that their investigation is now looking at conduct in the years 1986 to 2010,” said City said in a statement Thursday. The victims who came forward this week were between 13 and 14 at the time of the alleged incidents, and are all adults now.
50-year-old Uller, a Principal Technology Analyst with the City’s Information Systems Department, has been put on administrative leave, pending the resoultions of the charges. The alleged assaults occurred while Uller was both volunteering with the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL) in the 1990s. According to LASD Lt. Todd Dee, Uller targeted children, primarily boys, befriended them, before sexually assaulted them.
PAL is a City operated non-profit dedicated to providing a “safe and nurturing environment” for youths ages 6 – 17 years old. On Tuesday, October 24, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed criminal charges against Uller for six counts of sexual assault with four minors while a volunteer at PAL. Three of the victims were under the age of 14 and one under the age of 18.
Earlier this summer, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) received an anonymous tip about an alleged crime involving Uller. Following identification of the victim, SMPD reported the information to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for further investigation.
According to LASD Deputy Morgan Artaga, Uller was an active City employee at the time of his arrest but has since been put on administrative leave. In 2017, Uller earned $197,150 total pay and benefits according to Transparent California.
“Mr. Uller has been placed on administrative leave, pending resolution of the charges,” said Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer “The City will continue to take all steps to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of youth enrolled in City-sponsored programs. The City has and will continue to cooperate fully with the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office as the matter proceeds.”
Uller is the second PAL volunteer or employee charged with child molestation. In 2015 former PAL employee Donald Condon was arrested and charged with four counts of molestation of a minor. Cordon, who was sentenced to three years of probation, must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Uller also served as an instructor with the City’s Youth Tech Program, a summer program preparing high school students for careers in the tech industry that ran from 2012 to 2017. While none of the victims who have come forward were part of this program, the City still took precautions by alerting Youth Tech families of the allegations.
“This morning, the City reached out to all families whose children participated in this program to inform them of the arrest and criminal charges and to share contact information for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department should they be aware of any facts that may be relevant to the criminal investigation,” reads the City’s October 25th statement.
Following Uller’s arrest, Oscar de la Torre, who is on the Santa Monica School Board and runs the Pico Youth and Family Center, accused the City, including high ranking law enforcement officials, of covering up the alledged incidents. In response to these allegations the City has hired outside counsel to investigate accusations of a cover-up.
“The City has retained Irma Rodríguez Moises and Gabriel Sandoval at the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo to conduct an independent investigation of allegations that the City previously knew, or should have known, of Mr. Uller’s alleged criminal conduct. ” the City said.
Recognizing that incidents like these can trigger physical and psychological distress the City has instructed SMMUSD’s Mental Health Coordinator to ensure that the school-based mental health clinical team is attentive and responsive to any reaction from students, parents, caregivers or school staff. In addition, the City is working with mental health providers to make sure therapeutic services are available onsite and as-needed to school program participants and their families.
Uller’s bail has been set to $750,000 and he will appear in court on November 5.
This case is ongoing and anyone with information related to this investigation is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Special Victims Bureau toll free tip line at (877) 710-5273.