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Vernon mayor's son is sentenced to 8 years in prison for sex crimes

April 11, 2009|Hector Becerra

John Malburg, the 40-year-old scion of the family that founded the tiny, cloistered industrial city of Vernon, was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually molesting one boy and videotaping another one for commercial purposes.

The case against Malburg, who was the dean of students at now-closed Daniel Murphy Catholic High School in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, arose out of a public corruption investigation that involved him; his mother, Dominica, 83; and his father, Vernon Mayor Leonis Malburg, 80.

Three years ago, investigators serving search warrants in the voter fraud probe stumbled onto evidence that the younger Malburg was sexually abusing children.

Authorities said one 17-year-old student appeared in a sexually explicit tape in exchange for a higher grade and money. The boy Malburg was convicted of molesting was between the ages of 10 and 15 when the abuse occurred, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Taklender of the sex crimes division. Malburg had been a therapist for the boy when the abuse began, Taklender said.

During Malburg's sentencing, the victim -- now an Iraq war veteran -- addressed the court. His mother wept as she spoke of how she had trusted Malburg, who had been a father figure for her son.

Taklender said he was not surprised that Malburg pleaded guilty.

"I think the evidence was overwhelming," he said. "I think he saw the writing on the wall. He's not a stupid man. He's obviously educated. He's had some advantages in life, and he essentially betrayed everyone he knew."

An attorney for Malburg did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The sexual abuse case may prove a boon for the public corruption case, which centers on the allegation that Malburg and his parents lied about living in Vernon even as they voted as residents of that city. Leonis Malburg, the grandson of city founder John Baptiste Leonis, has served on the City Council for more than 50 years with scarcely any challenges.

During sentencing of the younger Malburg, the victim and his mother alluded to Malburg living in Hancock Park.

"He, as well as his mother, basically said, 'You didn't live in Vernon,' " said Jonlyn Callahan, one of two prosecutors in the voter fraud case. "I was surprised that they mentioned it. I don't think there's any question they don't live in Vernon."

Though many people inside Vernon, including residents and business owners, support the city, the small municipality has been criticized as autocratic and run more like a dynasty.

In 2006, three men moved into an abandoned building and filed petitions to run for the City Council. Within days, they were served with eviction papers, power was cut to the building and the council members voted to cancel the election and reelected themselves. The city hired armed private investigators to tail the would-be candidates, resulting in several confrontations in other cities and the arrest of two investigators for allegedly pointing a gun at someone.

City officials accused the three men of being part of a plot to take over the lucrative city. A judge agreed that is what they were trying to do, but he called it legal and forced Vernon to go forward with the election. The incumbents won.

But later that year, prosecutors indicted the Malburgs and also charged longtime city administrator Bruce Malkenhorst Sr. with illegally spending city money for personal use, including massages, golf outings, meals and political contributions.

The corruption case against the Malburgs has been delayed by a bevy of motions. On Tuesday, a judge will hear the latest defense motion to dismiss the case.

The Malkenhorst trial has been stayed while the state Supreme Court decides on a case that could have a bearing on that case.

The one case that investigators and prosecutors have closed is the one they didn't expect when they looked for evidence of voter fraud, and found child pornography and evidence of sexual abuse of children.

"A lot of cases get discovered inadvertently," Taklender said.

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hector.becerra@latimes.com

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