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Health of House Member Placed in Spotlight

Millender-McDonald's son requests a delay in his imprisonment so that he can care for her.

April 06, 2006|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

The son of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Carson) recently filed a sealed request in federal court seeking to delay indefinitely his imprisonment for corruption on the grounds that his mother had health problems and that he needed to take care of her.

Even though the court denied R. Keith McDonald's request, which was filed in February and first reported by the Los Angeles Wave, it has raised questions about the health of the 67-year-old congresswoman, who is up for reelection in November.

Her son, former president of the West Basin Municipal Water District, was convicted in 2004 of 10 felony counts of corruption. A jury found him guilty of taking $30,000 in kickbacks in exchange for awarding a multimillion-dollar pipeline contract and of funneling $15,000 in kickbacks to three members of the Carson City Council in exchange for their votes on a bus contract.

McDonald's mother, who attended her son's trial in Santa Ana federal court, was not implicated in the corruption case.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, Thom Mrozek, confirmed that McDonald, 42, had sought to delay his imprisonment to care for his ailing mother, but said specific information about Millender-McDonald's health was under court seal.

Her chief of staff in Washington, Shirley Cooks, denied that the congresswoman's health was impaired and said she had no idea why her son had made such a request.

"The congresswoman is doing fine. She's conducting the nation's business on the floor of the House as we speak. She's actually managing a bill right now as the ranking member on the Committee on House Administration," Cooks said Wednesday.

Millender-McDonald did have surgery last year, but has since recovered, Cooks said, adding, "I see her here every day, working hard."

Millender-McDonald's staff members have largely ignored questions about the congresswoman's health because they believe they are part of an orchestrated campaign by political opponents, Cooks said.

"That's what the opposition wants everybody" to worry about, Cooks said. The Wave article "was e-mailed to congressional officers here and I believe they did that deliberately to be disruptive," she said.

The six-term congresswoman, who won her district with 65% of the vote last time around, is highly favored to win again.

Peter Mathews, a Cypress College professor who lost to her in 2002, is challenging her in the Democratic primary.

Libertarian Herb Peters, a retired aerospace engineer, is also challenging her for the second time. She faces no Republican opposition.

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