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Council Member Free in Plea Deal

March 18, 2004|Christiana Sciaudone | Times Staff Writer

Baldwin Park City Councilman William Van Cleave pleaded no contest Wednesday to impersonating a police officer and disturbing the peace in a deal that allowed him to walk out of court a free man.

Prosecutors dropped the more serious charge of false imprisonment stemming from an incident in which Van Cleave allegedly threatened a woman to collect a debt.

Van Cleave is pleased with the outcome because he will be able to continue to serve on the City Council, his lawyer said.

"This is an excellent result," said attorney Steve Escovar. "He's always maintained that the felony false-imprisonment charge was untrue."

Prosecutors also claimed a victory, saying Van Cleave had admitted to abusing the public trust and his official position.

"We got what we wanted, which was the count at the heart of the case," said Terry Bork, deputy district attorney in the public integrity division, referring to the charge of impersonating a police officer.

Escovar called the misdemeanor charges "inconsequential enough" for Van Cleave to move on with his council duties and tend to his ailing health.

According to a probation report in the court file, Van Cleave in June 2002 flashed an official city badge at a woman who he said owed him money, and told her, "I am a police officer and I'm going to arrest you."

He apparently then pushed the woman into a car, according to court documents.

The woman, Rosa Leyva, was dropped off at her job at a Baldwin Park liquor store after she returned money to Van Cleave that the councilman claimed she had stolen from him.

Van Cleave's first trial in the case ended last year with a hung jury, 11 to 1 in favor of guilt, Bork said.

Van Cleave was serving as mayor at the time of the incident and it was the mayor pro tem badge that he flashed at Leyva, Bork said. It resembles a police badge, Bork added.

As a part of his sentence, Van Cleave must surrender the badge.

He also was sentenced to three years' probation, 400 hours of community service and a $100 fine.

Bork said his office had received numerous complaints that city officials had abused their badges.

"It's ripe for abuse," Bork said, "and in this instance, it was abused."

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