SOUTH GATE — Mayor Odell L. Snavely has pleaded no contest to charges that he harbored two teen-age girls at his toy store last April when he knew they should have been in school.
Snavely, 70, was charged Feb. 14 with two misdemeanor counts of contributing to the truancy of a minor, said Kenneth Freeman, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney. Each count is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Sentencing is scheduled for April 28 in Huntington Park Municipal Court.
In a brief telephone interview this week, Snavely downplayed his plea.
"I don't think failure to report a truancy is a big news item," Snavely said. "That might have happened to anybody."
The charges followed a six-month investigation that began when two South Gate Junior High School girls, ages 13 and 14, alleged that Snavely touched them on the breasts while they were working at his business, Del's Gifts and Toys, according to court records.
Not Enough Evidence
Freeman said the investigation did not produce enough evidence to prosecute Snavely on those claims. Much of the evidence against the mayor is outlined in a lengthy report by investigators for the child abuse unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The report, which is part of Snavely's court file, included interviews with eight girls who had worked for the mayor. Some of the girls told investigators that they would skip school and telephone Snavely, who would pick them up in his car, according to the report.
According to the sheriff's report, four of the girls claimed that they had been molested by Snavely, who would pay them $2 to $5 a day to help clean his store. The report concluded that "he uses his place of employment . . . to lure the victims inside by offering them employment and allowing them to remain there while truant from school, then molesting them when the opportunity presents itself."
Snavely has denied molesting anyone and said the girls fabricated the accusations. The girls who made the claims against him had admitted stealing some jewelry from his shop, Snavely said. He said he had threatened to report the girls for truancy unless they returned the items. To distract attention from their theft, Snavely said, the girls told school officials that he had molested them.
Freeman said some of the girls gave conflicting testimony when questioned by district attorney investigators. "Even though the conduct that was alleged is serious it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," Freeman said.
The district attorney's office was able to file truancy charges based on a taped telephone conversation between Snavely and one girl who claimed she had been molested, Freeman said.
In a transcript of the conversation in court files, Snavely asked the girl, "Are you going to ditch (skip school) tomorrow?" and offered to pick her up if she was. Freeman said Snavely initially told the district attorney's office that he did not know the girls were supposed to be in class because South Gate Junior High School is a year-round campus in which students alternate vacation time.
In the same conversation with the girl, Snavely denied that he had touched her breasts.
South Gate City Councilman William DeWitt said Snavely called his fellow council members to inform them of his plea. DeWitt said he was surprised by the charges, adding that he has dropped by Snavely's store about twice a week for the last 10 years and has never seen him alone with teen-agers.
"He's always appeared to me to be a perfect gentlemen," DeWitt said. "I was sorry to hear about this because it creates unneeded controversy for the city."