Robert Jablon, SignOnSanDiego.com, Feb. 11
COMPTON, Calif. (AP) — In a case that prosecutors say sent a message to public officials, former Mayor Omar Bradley and two other ex-city officials were convicted of misappropriating public funds and making an unauthorized loan in a city long plagued by poverty and crime.
Councilwomen Delores Zurita, who is Bradley’s aunt, and Yvonne Arceneaux were acquitted of similar corruption charges on Tuesday.
Bradley and Councilman Amen Rahh and City Manager John D. Johnson were found guilty of felony charges involving the use of city-issued credit cards for personal expenses.
They had used the cards as “personal piggy banks” to pay private expenses ranging from golf shoes to dental work, according to court documents. Authorities said some travel expenses were billed twice.
“This is the type of prosecution we should see more of,” Deputy District Attorney Terry Bork said. He declined to say if similar investigations were underway in other cities.
The three men could each receive as much as five years in prison when they return May 7 for sentencing. They will be imprisoned for 90 days while undergoing psychiatric and other evaluations by state prison officials who will make a sentencing recommendation.
Shouts and screams of protest erupted in the crowded courtroom after Superior Court Judge Jack Morgan ordered the three men taken into custody.
Lawyer Ben Pesta, who represents Bradley, said he would likely appeal what he called “an experimental prosecution” over a trivial amount of money. Bradley, 45, was accused of using about $7,500 in public money.
The convictions marked the latest embarrassment for the Los Angeles suburb that has struggled over the years to overcome a reputation for violent crime, underperforming public schools and the moniker of birthplace of “gangsta rap.”
Last March, an appeals court upheld Eric Perrodin’s election as mayor and overturned a lower court’s decision that had awarded the election to Bradley.
Defense attorneys said during the three-month corruption trial that the defendants never intended to steal public money and had reimbursed the city. Prosecutors countered, however, that the officials were using their municipal credit cards to obtain what amounted to unsecured loans at taxpayer expense.
A grand jury indicted the defendants last February on charges of public officer crime occurring between September 1999 and August 2002.
Rahh, 55, a Bradley ally, misappropriated $6,668 through double billings and spent an additional $6,100 on personal items, according to grand jury transcripts.
Johnson, 47, of Fontana, misappropriated $5,979 through double billings and spent at least an additional $9,328 on personal items, records show.