The mayor of Hawthorne has been indicted for allegedly failing to disclose that he receiveda cash payment from the owner of a local gymnasium, the third elected official in the South Bay city to be accused of criminal activity in the last five years.
Billed as a reform candidate after the city's previous mayor was arrested for stealing an industrial-size food mixer from the local school district, Mayor Daniel Juarez took $2,000 from the owner of a Gold's Gym and deposited the money in his personal checking account, the indictment alleges.
The gym had received a $2.5 million, city-guaranteed federal loan to open its doors, prosecutors revealed Thursday. It has since gone bankrupt and repaid only a fraction of the loan.
In recent years, politics in the city where the Beach Boys grew up have lurched from controversy to controversy — the entire City Council was once called before a grand jury, another mayor was investigated for firing a gun into the air to scare off some teenagers, and a past police chief was paid $175,000 to take early retirement.
One of Juarez's predecessors, Larry Guidi, was convicted of stealing kitchen equipment in 2010. Louis Velez — whom Juarez replaced on the council — pleaded guilty to conflict of interest two years earlier.
If convicted of perjury, Juarez, 59, would be removed from office immediately, said David Demerjian, head deputy district attorney for the D.A.'s Public Integrity Division. He also could face five years in prison if convicted.
Juarez asked the gym owner for $2,000 in 2010 and put the cash in his personal bank account, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman. He said the district attorney's office is continuing to investigate whether Juarez received other payments.
Juarez pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony perjury in Los Angeles County Superior Court and was ordered to return to court Dec. 10 for a pretrial hearing. His attorney, Joseph Vodnoy, said he had not seen the grand jury transcript but that his client had done nothing wrong
Publicly, Juarez criticized the gym loan, arguing that the owner had benefited from a friendship with other city officials. But he reportedly recused himself from a recent vote on the gym's finances.
The aerospace manager has been a fixture in Hawthorne politics for decades, first on the local school board and then for half a dozen years as city clerk before winning a council seat in 2007. He was part of a "reformer" group that took control of the council after Guidi was arrested.
Guidi, who was caught on video taking a commercial food mixer from the school district where he worked as a warehouse manager, pleaded guilty to a felony grand theft charge and was sentenced to one year on probation and 100 hours of community service.
Prosecutors said Guidi planned to use the food mixer for a backyard pizza oven that he was so proud of that he posted images of it on Facebook.