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D.A. looks into Burke's residency

L.A. County prosecutors are checking allegations that the supervisor is living in Brentwood and not in her district as required by law.

July 31, 2007|Jack Leonard and Matt Lait | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Monday it is reviewing allegations that Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke is living in a gated Brentwood home rather than in her predominantly South Los Angeles district, where she must live by law.

A district attorney's spokeswoman said the office has received at least one complaint after a Times report Friday that Burke has been staying overnight in a 4,000-square-foot residence with a swimming pool and tennis court, even though the supervisor said she considers a townhouse in Mar Vista, on the edge of her district, her principal residence.

In an effort to defuse the controversy, Burke on Monday allowed The Times to review checks and other documents from a kitchen remodeling project at the 1,200-square-foot townhouse on busy Centinela Avenue in the 2nd District.

She said the renovation -- knocking down a wall and replacing cabinets and tile, among other work, prevented her from staying overnight at the townhouse.

But the documents show the renovation began in May, and they fail to account for most of the time Burke acknowledged she has been staying in Brentwood.

Burke told The Times last week that she had slept at the townhouse for "maybe a month or two" since its purchase in June 2006, preferring her Brentwood home instead.

Two weeks earlier, she told The Times that she used the Brentwood home only on weekends and special occasions. She declined to comment Monday.

Over a three-week period that ended last week, Times reporters observed Burke leaving her Brentwood home each weekday morning and driving to the Centinela townhouse, where her county driver took the wheel of her car and chauffeured her to work.

The reporters watched her return as a passenger to the Centinela home in the evenings before taking the wheel and driving the five miles to her Brentwood residence.

Burke's four-bedroom, five-bath house in Brentwood sits along a winding stretch of multimillion-dollar homes on Mandeville Canyon Road, in Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's 3rd District. She and her husband have owned the property since the 1980s, but the couple rented out the home for most of the time Burke has been a supervisor since 1992.

A spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said his office was reviewing the allegations and had not decided whether to open an official investigation.

"When we receive a complaint, we evaluate whether it has merit, whether there's a potential that laws have been broken and whether we should open a full investigation," Jane Robison said.

She declined to say how many complaints were submitted and by whom. Community activist Najee Ali, who has been critical of Burke, said he had filed a complaint on behalf of several of Burke's constituents and received a response from the district attorney's office.

In recent years, Cooley has successfully prosecuted several politicians for living outside their districts. Last month, prosecutors in San Francisco leveled criminal and civil charges against a county supervisor whom they contend lives outside his constituency.

In those cases, politicians were accused of living outside their districts when they filed election candidacy papers. But Burke did live within her district, at a Marina del Rey condominium, when she ran for reelection in 2004.

California law does not clearly spell out how to determine someone's primary residence, describing it only as "that place in which his or her habitation is fixed, wherein the person has the intention of remaining, and to which, whenever he or she is absent, the person has the intention of returning."

Burke has said she plans to move back into the Mar Vista townhouse as early as this week. But prosecutors might also consider other times when Burke was absent from her district.

Burke sold her Marina del Rey condo in August 2005, after which she registered to vote at a 2nd District apartment she rented in West Los Angeles.

When asked last week by The Times whether she had stayed at that apartment, Burke replied: "Not too often, no. I was there just a few times. Not all the time. Once in a while."

If prosecutors decide against filing criminal charges, they could opt to bring a lawsuit in an attempt to declare Burke's office vacant. But a legal battle in civil court could well stretch beyond next year, when Burke has said she plans to retire.

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