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Nunez wants use of badges probed

The Assembly speaker acts after lawmaker Mervyn Dymally attracts notice by issuing the official-looking shields to supporters.

December 13, 2006|Dan Morain and Evelyn Larrubia | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is calling for an inquiry into at least one lawmaker's practice of distributing official-looking badges to supporters and contributors.

Although Nunez did not name any lawmaker, he issued a sharply worded letter aimed at Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton). Through his aides, Dymally has been handing out "Assembly commissioner" badges to his supporters.

"Somewhere down the line, a breakdown has occurred," Nunez said in the letter dated Monday. Nunez, a Los Angeles Democrat, asked that Assembly Rules Committee Chairman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) report to him in a month.

Dymally's practice of distributing badges attracted attention when the Redondo Beach city attorney charged Dymally protege Pirikana Johnson, 27, with impersonating a state official. The charges, filed last week, stemmed from two incidents in which Johnson allegedly flashed at police a badge issued by Dymally's office.

Dymally's aides have placed orders for shields for at least 30 people, according to records obtained by The Times. The badges contain a likeness of the Assembly's official seal and read: "California State Assembly Commissioner." The Assembly does not recognize such a post. A 1968 law makes misuse of the seal a misdemeanor.

Names on order forms include Dymally's wife and a former chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which owns a large casino. The tribe has donated $9,200 to Dymally, and Morongo gave $65,000 to the Legislative Black Coalition, which helps elect African Americans. Dymally chairs the Legislature's black caucus.

A Morongo spokeswoman declined to discuss the badge apparently issued to former Chairman Maurice Lyons.

Although not all badge recipients contributed to the lawmaker's campaigns, a dozen people who received badges have donated more than $25,000 to Dymally since 2003.

In an interview Tuesday, De La Torre called the practice of giving out badges "ridiculous." He said Dymally's actions are "obviously front and center."

"You can dance around it all you want, but it is a crime," De La Torre said. "I have very strong feelings about this, and those feelings will be reflected in my report to the speaker."

Dymally declined to discuss the issue for this article, though he issued a statement saying: "I am not aware of any connection between the badges or campaign contributions." Earlier this year, he said, "Everybody in town has one of these badges. There is nothing special about it."

Nunez has entrusted Dymally this year with the chairmanship of the Assembly Health Committee. The post places him at the center of what is expected to be the coming year's biggest issue.

One recipient of a badge from Dymally was Bruce D.D. Macrae, who oversees public affairs and lobbying in California for United Parcel Service. UPS' political action committee has donated $6,000 to Dymally since 2005, though Macrae said there is no connection between the contributions and the badge.

Macrae, who has supported Dymally for decades, said he kept the badge framed on a wall but has since returned it. He said he knew it was "never ever supposed to be used as a form of identification."

Another Dymally supporter and badge recipient is William Marshall, treasurer of the Legislative Black Coalition and director of the nonprofit Children's Way Foster Family Agency, which recruits and trains foster parents in Los Angeles County. He, too, said he knew it would have been improper to use it and has it mounted on a plaque.

Marshall has donated $8,500 to Dymally since 2003 and recalled that Dymally swore him in as a "commissioner" at a dinner.

After law enforcement authorities opened an inquiry, Dymally sent letters to recipients asking them to return the badges or dispose of them, adding, "Please be advised that any exhibition of the badge will constitute a misdemeanor."

Some recipients said they complied with his request, but others have not, including one businessman who noted that Dymally did not offer to refund a $500 contribution that he thought was expected in order to obtain the badge. Campaign records filed with the state show no such contribution.

"If it is a commemorative badge, how come it doesn't say 'commemorative' on it?" asked the businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, concerned about retribution by the lawmaker.

Several recipients, including developer Scott Suh, gave no money. Suh, a trade deputy under former Mayor James Hahn, said he was sworn in as an Assembly "commissioner" and recalled that it seemed "official."

"I was honored," Suh said.

Suh had carried the badge with him. But he was mugged a year and a half ago in Koreatown, and among the items stolen from him was the badge. It has not been recovered.

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dan.morain@latimes.com

evelyn.larrubia@latimes.com

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