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Ex-union chief gets jail for aiding councilman

December 15, 2006|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

The former president of the union representing Los Angeles school workers was sentenced to six months in jail Thursday for illegally diverting union funds to the 2003 political campaign of disgraced Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow.

Lawyers for Janett Humphries, 63, had argued for home detention because she has Alzheimer's disease, a diagnosis confirmed by her psychiatrist, who testified at the downtown sentencing under subpoena.

Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus said Humphries' crime was too serious for her to avoid jail. "Plain and simple, if she is not sent to jail, it would be making the statement that it is OK to break the rules to help a candidate win," he said. "I don't see electronic monitoring as punishment that fits the crime."

Marcus noted that political figures accused of corruption often minimize their offenses and said Humphries did so in her trial. "I do think this is very serious. It was a conspiracy to defraud the political process and steal money from Local 99," he said. Humphries was president of Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union.

She was convicted in October of conspiracy and perjury. Humphries had the union pay $33,095 in salaries to seven of Ludlow's campaign workers and provided him with a cellphone, which he used to rack up $3,397.73 in bills.

Ludlow resigned his council seat to head the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, then stepped down from that post to face state and federal charges. He pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to violate the city's $500 limit on campaign contributions and was sentenced to three years' probation.

Humphries' psychiatrist, Audrey Henry, said brain scans showed that Humphries had suffered a small stroke and that part of her brain had atrophied. Henry said Humphries had moderate Alzheimer's, which impaired her memory and cognitive ability. The doctor said that Humphries also suffered from depression and that being jailed would probably worsen her condition.

Max Huntsman, the prosecutor in the case, said that Humphries deserved jail time but that home detention would be acceptable given her condition.

Marcus said he would soften the one-year term he originally planned to give Humphries, but he insisted on some jail time. "I listened to the doctor, and I have not concluded her condition is life-threatening," the judge said. "People are sentenced to jail every day with worse medical problems. I acknowledge she has Alzheimer's but don't believe she can't go to jail."

When Humphries' lawyer, Ricardo A. Torres II, pointed out that Ludlow did not get jail time, Marcus said, "I agree Martin Ludlow was a major, major player ... but I had nothing to do with [his] sentence."

In addition to her jail time, Humphries must serve six months under electronic monitoring. She must also repay, with Ludlow, the more than $36,000 in union funds diverted to his campaign.

Marcus ordered Humphries to return to his court to begin serving her jail sentence Feb. 28, after she is sentenced on federal embezzlement charges related to the campaign conspiracy. She pleaded guilty to the charges last month.

Humphries hesitated when Marcus asked if she understood her sentence. Torres, sitting next to her, whispered, "Say yes," to her and assured the judge that he would explain the terms to her. After Marcus sternly told Humphries he could order her to jail immediately, and amid more prodding from Torres, she softly said, "Yes."

peter.hong@latimes.com

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