Fliers and news conferences featuring grieving family members and police officers often include a monetary reward along with the public cry for help solving a crime that can be debilitating or fatal.
If a tipster’s information leads to the arrest and conviction of the suspect, they are entitled to collect that reward money, but that is not always how the case unfolds.
In 2010, Benjamin Zelman – then a 22-year-old college student – was working valet when he was hit by a car on La Cienega Boulevard outside KOI restaurant. Zelman was critically injured and in a coma.
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“He sustained significant injuries,” said his mother, Gerta Zelman.
A nearby surveillance camera captured the image showing a 1970’s yellow Volkswagen bug with a black top. Zelman’s family pleaded with the public to help find the driver of that vehicle.
“Please, it is so much better for the human soul to acknowledge the responsibility,” Gerta Zelman said.
LA City Councilman Paul Koretz offered a $25,000 reward and the Zelman family offered an additional $10,000.
Marvin Rinnig recognized the car.
“Every day in the morning, I see this yellow Volkswagen,” Rinnig told NBC 4.
Rinnig said he saw the car from his window where he sits at his computer. He took a picture of the car and called LAPD, giving them the information that solved the case.
Before Rinnig’s tip, there were no leads.
Rinnig said he helped the police catch the suspect a second time. When officers showed up to arrest the driver, he took off again.
“The suspect came just tearing out of the garage in the Volkswagen,” Rinnig said. “I went and I got the officer and I said there he goes.”
With Rinnig’s help, the police arrested 74-year-old Michael Goldman, who pleaded “no contest” to felony hit-and-run charges. Goldman was sentenced to three years’ probation.
A year and a half passed and despite having letters from the police and city acknowledging Rinnig as the first and only person to provide information, he still hasn’t received his money.
The Get Garcia team contacted the Councilman and the police. Within two weeks, the matter moved from the police chief to a full city council vote, approving the reward money.
“I know it was a slow process,” Koretz said.
The city clerk told the Get Garcia team he should have the $25,000 check in two weeks.
On the other hand, the Zelman family still has not paid Rinnig the $10,000 they promised.
“I am upset with the family,” Rinnig said.
Peter Zelman, the father of the victim, told the Get Garcia team that he has $3 million in medical bills and a disabled son to care for. Zelman also said he questions if Marvin should get the reward money because it’s the family that obtained the surveillance video of the car.
Zelman believes that, too, was a legitimate tip.
If you have something you need help with call us at 818.520.TIPS or email me at GetGarcia@nbcuni.com.