Correction: Small-Town Corruption story
Posted at: 04/26/2013 1:36 PM
(AP) LOS ANGELES - In a story April 25 about alleged corruption in the city of Irwindale, The Associated Press reported erroneously that a California appeals court threw out embezzlement convictions against four city officials. The appellate court tossed out the indictments before the cases went to trial. The AP also incorrectly identified one of the officials as retired City Manager Steve Blancarte. He pleaded guilty in 2011 to misappropriating public funds, but was not part of the appeal.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Convictions tossed for 4 LA-area city officials
Convictions thrown out for 4 LA-area city officials accused of embezzlement for ritzy NY trips
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A Southern California appeals court on Thursday threw out embezzlement charges against four officials from the small city of Irwindale who were accused of spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on baseball games and Broadway shows in New York.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal said in its decision that the four officials spent "shocking" amounts of city money and showed an "abuse of the public trust." But the court said Los Angeles County prosecutors withheld two key documents from the grand jury that indicted them.
The documents "arguably would have shown that there was no deceit whatsoever," the court wrote.
Five embezzlement counts apiece were thrown out for Councilmen Mark Breceda and Manuel Garcia, Finance Director Abe De Dios and former Councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez.
During trips to New York between 2001 and 2005, prosecutors say the four went to New York with the intent of improving the city’s bond rating but spent much of their time attending Broadway musicals like "Wicked" and New York Yankees baseball games. On one trip, the group stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and ran up a bill of $62,000.
Prosecutors said the trips were paid for a by a third party who was then reimbursed by the city.
But defense attorneys said their clients were unaware of the reimbursements and the appellate court agreed there was little evidence they willfully cheated the city.
Prosecutors instead focused on a daily $75 food allotment each official received from the city, accusing them of "double-dipping" by claiming reimbursement money from Irwindale even when others had paid.
But the two city documents withheld from the grand jury instructed city officials to claim the reimbursement no matter who had paid.
"While greed and fraudulent intent may be siblings, they certainly are not identical twins," Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson wrote.
Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman said the ruling is just a setback, and prosecutors would now explore all their options for new charges or indictments.
Defense attorneys expressed hope the matter was over.
"There was simply insufficient evidence across the board to show that our clients intended to embezzle money from the city," Breceda’s lawyer, Anthony Falangetti, told City News Service.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)