Monday, August 28, 2006
C.A. Affirms Convictions of Ex-Compton Mayor, Two Others
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The convictions of former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley, former Councilman Amen Rahh, and former City Manager John Johnson II on charges of misappropriating city funds have been affirmed by this district’s Court of Appeal.
Div. Eight Thursday held that jurors were adequately instructed as to the law governing use of city credit cards and payment of travel expenses in connection with official business, and rejected claims by Bradley and Rahh that their good-faith reliance on Johnson’s advice precluded prosecution.
Bradley and Johnson were each sentenced to three years in prison, and Rahh to a year in jail as a condition of probation, for violations of Penal Code Sec. 424. The statute makes it a felony for a public officer to, among other things, appropriate public funds to the defendant’s own use “[w]ithout authority of law” or to use public funds “for any purpose not authorized by law.”
Violation is punishable by a prison term and by disqualification from ever holding public office again.
Bradley was first elected to the Compton council in 1991 and served as mayor from 1993 to 2001, when he was defeated in a close and controversial election by Eric Perrodin, who currently occupies the post. Rahh was elected to the council in 1999, and Johnson was appointed by Bradley as city manager around the time Rahh was elected.
Prosecutors said the defendants illegally used their city-issued credit cards for personal expenses, including a tuxedo rental for the city manager, green fees and golf cart rental for Bradley at a resort where he allegedly discussed city business with a utility executive, and travel expenses for a San Bernardino County-based youth basketball team on which Johnson’s son played.
The three were also accused of double-billing the city by accepting travel advances, which were not repaid, and then using their city credit cards to pay the travel expenses.
The district attorney opened an investigation after the city treasurer complained in late 1999 that city officials were misusing their credit cards. In addition to the three defendants who were convicted, the grand jury indicted City Councilwoman Delores Zurita—Bradley’s aunt—and Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, both of whom were acquitted.
Law ‘Crystal Clear’
The defense argued that everything the defendants did was authorized, except for some small use of public funds for private purposes, such as to pay for in-room movies while staying at hotels on city business trips. Such “incidental and minimal” use cannot be the basis for criminal prosecution under Sec. 424.
The defense further contended that the city did not set a time limit on the return of travel advances, and that the defendants did not bill the city twice for the same items, but rather used the credit credits for other legitimate expenses.
But Justice Madeleine Flier, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the law was “crystal clear” that a crime is committed as soon as a public official charges a personal expenditure to an official credit card or uses an official card to pay an expense for which funds have already been advanced.
Ralph Goldsen, the appellate lawyer for Bradley, said he would “absolutely” seek review in the state Supreme Court.
“I’m really disappointed” that the justices issued an opinion that “really misses the central issue”—that “all of Bradley’s expenditures were really tied into his experience as mayor” and that the jury was given no guidance as to “what’s personal and what’s legitimately governmental,” Goldsen said.
“Prosecution witnesses who were political enemies of Bradley were anxious to say they were personal,” while Bradley could not pursue his claim that they were authorized by the city manager because Johnson was a co-defendant and could not be called as a witness, Goldsen elaborated.
The decision “puts every public official in jeopardy of prosecution” for gaining some benefit from public expenditures, he said.
The other defense attorneys on appeal were Richard D. Miggins for Rahh and Robert W. Walters and James R. Tedford II for Johnson. Deputy Attorney General Susan Sullivan Pithey argued for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Bradley, 06 S.O.S. 4513.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company