The mayor of Inglewood was charged Thursday with conflict of interest and misappropriation of $500,000 in public funds stemming from a city low-interest loan program originally intended to help Inglewood administrators afford to live in town.
Mayor Roosevelt Dorn is an ordained clergyman and once was a sheriff's deputy, an assistant Los Angeles city attorney and a Municipal and Superior Court judge known for his no-nonsense attitude toward crime.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, June 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Inglewood mayor: An article in Friday's California section about a criminal case against the mayor of Inglewood said Mayor Roosevelt Dorn was charged with four felonies in a complaint accusing him of conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds. He was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor.
The three-term mayor often recounted how he arrived in Los Angeles from the cotton fields of Oklahoma with $1.50 in his pocket.
Dorn borrowed the $500,000 in November 2004, five months after he voted with the 3-2 council majority to extend the program to elected officials. He received a 30-year loan with a variable interest rate of 2.39%, far less than the market rate.
Dorn, 72, is expected to be arraigned July 3. If convicted of all four felony counts, he faces a maximum of four years and eight months in prison. Most convictions also bar politicians from holding office.
Dorn did not return calls to his home and office.
The criminal complaint charges that Dorn used his office "to influence a governmental decision in which the defendant knew and had reason to know he had a financial interest."
Dorn used the money to pay off the mortgage on a house that he and his wife had bought in 1966. He allegedly put the remaining amount, about $265,000, in the bank.
The mayor, who earns about $95,000 annually, repaid the loan in October 2006.
Dorn was elected to his third term in January 2007, overcoming controversy already generated by reports that the district attorney was investigating him and city Treasurer Wanda Brown, who received a city loan of $235,000.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the investigation of Brown was over.
Inglewood created its loan program in 1992, allowing city executive employees to take a loan "for the purpose of purchasing a residence" in the city.
Twelve years later, the council extended the program to include the mayor, council members, city clerk, treasurer and others. The program's purpose also was changed from "purchasing a residence" to include "maintaining residency."
Councilman Eloy Morales Jr. and former Councilman Curren Price joined Dorn in voting for the amendment. Councilman Ralph Franklin did not vote. Councilwoman Judy Dunlap was absent.
The council repealed the changes in 2006, after residents complained and officials said they realized that the modifications conflicted with the City Charter, which prohibits city officials from being part of any financial transaction in which the official takes action.
It is not unusual for cities to offer home loans in order to attract and retain employees, such as firefighters and police officers, who may not be able to afford to live in cities where they work.
Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said he had never heard of an incentive program for elected officials.
"City Council members run for office," Stern said. "A lot of people want to be mayor, want to be councilman. It doesn't take a lot of incentive to have more people run for office."
Dorn was a colorful character long before he turned to politics. He was considered one of the most controversial judges in the Los Angeles Juvenile Court system. He believed in dealing sternly with the youngest offenders before they got older and graduated to more serious crimes, and he often boasted of his success.
He was known for keeping youths on probation longer and for penalizing them for disobeying their parents or receiving poor grades.
Although some people credited him with turning around troubled children, others criticized him for being dictatorial and high-handed. In 1989, he was transferred out of Inglewood Juvenile Court after the public defender's office pressed the presiding judge to remove him.
The public defender's office alleged that Dorn chose court-appointed defense attorneys who agreed with his get-tough philosophy and would not object to his harsh treatment of offenders.