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West Hollywood to defend councilman if he is charged over expenses

The district attorney's office is investigating John Duran, who charged more than $7,000 in meals to his city credit card over three years. Duran says all the meals were related to city business.

May 26, 2012|By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times

The West Hollywood City Council voted in closed session to provide the defense for Councilman John Duran — whose charges on a city-issued credit card have been the focus of an investigation by Los Angeles County prosecutors — should charges be filed against him.

Duran charged dozens of meals to his city credit card over three years, spending more than $7,000 at local restaurants. County prosecutors are trying to determine whether the meals violated state law or whether they were necessary expenses.

"The City Council believes that it is in the public's interest to provide such a defense based on the district attorney's announced intention to make this a test case, challenging commonly understood practices pertaining to reimbursement of business expenses," City Atty. Michael Jenkins said in a statement at Monday's council meeting.

Jenkins said that Duran "adhered to city policy" and that his "expenses were incurred within the scope of his duties as a city councilmember."

Duran defended his expenditures during the meeting, saying that all of the meals were related to city business and that discussions during them led to city programs for transgender people, the establishment of a drug and alcohol recovery center in the city and federal money for West Hollywood.

"I wish I could tell you that there was one Hawaiian vacation, one hooker at one of the lunches, one outstanding fact that would make you all say, 'Aha! There it is; that's why he's being prosecuted,' but that's not the case," Duran said.

The councilman said he did not know why his charges are the focus of the probe by the district attorney's office but suggested there might be political motivations.

Duran, an attorney, said he was "very actively involved" in the campaign of Kamala Harris, who defeated Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley in the 2010 race for California attorney general.

"I don't know if that's the reason; I don't know if there are other reasons," said Duran, who has created a legal defense fund for himself.

Prosecutors have collected hundreds of pages of records — sales receipts, credit card statements and expense report forms — from West Hollywood in recent months.

David Demerjian, head of the district attorney's Public Integrity Division, has said the meal expenses of other council members "paled in comparison" to Duran's.

"I don't know what will occur, but if anything does get filed, I'm prepared to fight for my reputation and my integrity in the courts of Los Angeles," Duran said.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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