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5 Top Compton Officials Charged With Fund Misuse

Former Mayor Omar Bradley and others are accused of improperly using city credit cards.

March 04, 2003|Ted Rohrlich and Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writers

Former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley, current City Manager John D. Johnson II and a majority of the City Council were arrested Monday on charges of misusing public funds.

Sources familiar with the investigation said investigators found evidence that the five misused city credit cards by charging a variety of personal expenses, including food, limousines, travel and an emergency trip to the dentist.

The charges capped a three-year probe by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office into possible misuse of taxpayer funds.

Former mayor Bradley remains a dominant political figure in the working class city of 93,000 in southeastern Los Angeles County.

If convicted, the five could be barred from elective office in California for life and would be subject to a maximum of four years in prison.

For now, the three members of the Compton City Council who are among the accused remain in office.

The investigation is one of three into possible wrongdoing by Compton officials. The other two, by federal investigators, are continuing.

Johnson was arrested Monday morning in San Bernardino County, where he lives, law enforcement officials said. Council members Delores Zurita and Yvonne Arceneaux were arrested at their Compton homes. Bradley and council member Amen Rahh surrendered later in the day. All were released after posting $25,000 bonds, jail officials said.

Grand jury indictments were returned under seal against the five late last week and were expected to remain sealed until March 24, when the five are due in court to be arraigned.

None of those arrested was available for comment Monday. Calls to their City Hall offices were not returned. Bradley's lawyer, Milton Grimes, said Monday night that his client had done nothing wrong. Bradley had reimbursed the city for personal charges on his city credit card within an allowable grace period, Grimes said.

But on the steps of City Hall, Bradley's opponents celebrated the news of the arrests.

"The crooks are in jail! The crookety crooks!" Jackie Hardy, a retired nurse and 40-year Compton resident, who gave her age as mid-50s, yelled at the top of her lungs.

"Thank the Lord!" hooted Gladys M. Russell, 77.

"We've been paying taxes for 50 years, and we're tired of crooked government," said longtime resident Joyce Taylor, 70. "We want to clean up our city and get the services we deserve."

Hardy brought a wreath of flowers, saying it symbolized the death of the majority faction on the council that has been allied with Bradley against current Mayor Eric Perrodin.

Perrodin, a deputy district attorney who defeated Bradley in a still-contested 2001 election, said Monday that "if the charges turn out to be true, I think it's going to be like a phoenix for the city of Compton. We're going to rise from the ashes."

Representatives of the district attorney's office refused to comment Monday on details of the case, or even to acknowledge whom they had arrested, saying they were barred from doing so by a judicial order that cited grand jury secrecy requirements.

The order came from David Wesley, the assistant presiding judge of Superior Court in Los Angeles County, the officials said. Wesley did not respond to a request for an explanation Monday.

People familiar with the probe, however, speaking on the condition they not be identified, said investigators found evidence that:

* Bradley, 44, charged luggage and personal trips to Las Vegas to his city-issued credit card and double-billed the city for some trips.

* Johnson, who holds an appointed office, used his card to pay for a health club membership and electronic equipment from a discount store, and to take a children's basketball team on a trip to Florida.

* Rahh, 54, who teaches black studies at Cal State Long Beach and Compton College, used his card to pay for having his teeth fixed and for family members' trips, as well as for hotel stays in Los Angeles County and car rentals.

* Zurita, 66, who runs a meals on wheels program partly funded by the city, rented a limousine, allowed family members to use her card and used it herself to pay for personal trips to Las Vegas.

* Arceneaux, 56, a school secretary, used her card to pay for car repairs and trips to Las Vegas and to pay restaurant charges that were not incurred doing public business.

The cards are issued by the city "exclusively for travel and meeting reservations related to city business," according to city regulations.

Rahh, Johnson and some of the others repaid some questioned charges to the city.

Of the two federal investigations into allegations of corruption in Compton, one involves the awarding of a garbage contract to a businessman who is a friend of Bradley.

The politically connected businessman, Michael Aloyan, first promised to deliver the waste contract to other firms if they paid him at least $1 million, two garbage haulers have said. After they refused, the Compton City Council awarded Aloyan the contract.

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