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Current and former Irwindale officials to be tried for embezzlement

Four current and former leaders of Irwindale are accused of misusing city money for tickets to baseball games and Broadway shows while on official trips to New York.

January 20, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

Four current and former Irwindale officials will go to trial this spring on embezzlement charges laid out in a grand jury indictment.

The charges stem from a series of trips city officials made to New York between 2001 and 2005, allegedly to get a higher bond rating. During the trips, prosecutors said officials improperly used city money to treat themselves to baseball games and Broadway shows that had nothing to do with city business.

Prosecutors said that not only did the officials spend city money on inappropriate things but also "double dipped" by getting meals paid for by bond consultants while collecting a per diem from the city. The city then reimbursed the consultants for the meals, said Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Schwartz.

Prosecutors said current council members Mark Breceda and Manuel Garcia, former Councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez and former Finance Director Abe de Dios embezzled about $20,000 during the trips. Breceda and De Dios face five counts each of felony embezzlement, and Garcia and Ramirez face one count each.

Ramirez is also accused of intimidating a witness by allegedly threatening local activist James Hunley in an Internet forum in an attempt to dissuade him from testifying at trial.

Garcia was not originally charged but was added as a defendant in the indictment released last month. The defendants made their first appearance in front of the trial judge Thursday.

Attorneys for Breceda and Ramirez could not be reached for comment. De Dios' attorney, Daniel V. Nixon, said only that his client continues to maintain his innocence. Steven Graff Levine, Garcia's attorney, declined to comment.

Breceda, Ramirez and De Dios were first charged in 2010 with misappropriation of public funds, along with former City Manager Steve Blancarte.

Blancarte pleaded guilty to a single count in July 2011 and paid $20,000 in restitution and fines. The others fought the charges, saying that the statute of limitation on the misappropriation charges had expired.

The misappropriation charges were dismissed. Instead, the officials will go to trial on the embezzlement charges outlined in the indictment, which have no statute of limitations.

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