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L.A. County closes probe into West Hollywood official's spending habits

Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman says criminal charges will not be filed against West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, who charged dozens of meals to his city expense account.

April 16, 2013|By Richard Winton and Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times
  • The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has dropped a probe into West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran's use of a city credit card.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has dropped a probe… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles County prosecutors have closed an investigation into the spending habits of West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, whose charges on a city-issued credit card were the focus of a nearly two-year probe.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman said criminal charges will not be filed against Duran, who charged dozens of meals to his city expense account, spending more than $7,000 at local restaurants over three years.

There was "no evidence available to contradict the claim of city officials that they were conducting public business during these meals," Huntsman wrote in a letter Thursday to a person who filed a complaint against members of the City Council. In a copy of the letter received by The Times, the complainant's name was redacted.

In 2011, prosecutors collected hundreds of pages of records — sales receipts, credit card statements and expense report forms — from West Hollywood officials as part of an inquiry into whether the expenses violated state law.

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

After a community activist made some of the expenses public in 2011, West Hollywood took away council members' credit cards and tightened controls on spending.

Huntsman cited such actions by the city in his letter, saying West Hollywood officials "took a number of steps to bring its policies and practices into conformity with state law." The city, Huntsman said, has stopped approving the purchase of meals in city limits for officials and third parties and "does not intend to start again."

Duran said he was heartened by the closing of the investigation.

"I'm greatly relieved and just want to get back to doing the work of the city of West Hollywood," Duran said.

Duran had publicly defended his expenditures, saying all of the meals were over city business and that discussions during the meals led to the creation of numerous city programs.

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

The council had voted to provide defense for Duran. City Atty. Michael Jenkins last year said Duran "adhered to city policy," and his "expenses were incurred within the scope of his duties as a City Council member."

West Hollywood voters decisively reelected Duran to his council seat in March. He has been in office since 2001.

"I am glad for John," said George Bird, an attorney for Duran. "He had to run for reelection with this cloud, and now the residents of West Hollywood, knowing how he had served, sent him back to office."

richard.winton@latimes.com

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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