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Former L.A. neighborhood council leader indicted

Concerned for the safety of several witnesses, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County district attorney's  office obtained a grand jury indictment last month of a former Los Angeles neighborhood council president who had been charged in October with misappropriating city funds.

James Harris, who headed the Empowerment Congress Southwest Area Neighborhood Development Council in South Los Angeles, is the fifth neighborhood council leader to face criminal charges for misuse of taxpayer funds. The money had been allotted to the groups, which received $50,000 annually until this year when their budgets were reduced to $45,000. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Harris in mid-February, but Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman said the indictment would allow the case to go to trial more quickly.

At his arraignment Friday, Harris pleaded not guilty to four counts in the superseding indictment, which accused him of misappropriating $152,000, embezzlement and falsifying receipts and neighborhood council minutes (documentation required to justify a neighborhood council’s expenses.)

Huntsman said that because of Harris’ prior federal conviction for bank robbery in 1985 and two state felony robbery convictions in 1986, he could face up to 14 years in prison under California's three-strikes law. Harris’ lawyer could not immediately be reached.

According to Huntsman, Harris had contacted several witnesses in recent months. In one instance, Huntsman said Harris offered to send a car to pick up a witness and drive her to an undisclosed location to meet him.

“I think that would make anyone nervous if somebody's talking to them who has strike priors and alleged gang ties,” Huntsman said, adding there are a number of witnesses “who feel their safety is in danger.”

Harris' bail was reduced from more than $1 million to $100,000 after supporters at a previous court hearing praised his work in the community. He was required to post bond today.

He was removed as president of the neighborhood council by the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment last year. That department, which oversees the neighborhood council funding program, could face deep budget cuts as the city tries to close a $208-million budget gap this fiscal year.

The city’s top budget analyst, Miguel Santana, has asked City Council members to consider a 50% reduction in the neighborhood councils' budgets in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. In his three-year budget plan, Santana also called for eliminating the bankcard system that allows certain neighborhood council leaders — who are not subject to background checks — to make cash withdrawals and credit-card purchases.

-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall


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Comments () | Archives (7)

Nore of your tax moany at work here kids.

you'd think that a background check would be mandatory for anyone handling monies --even the little league volunteers in Torrance.

The City Council should be held responsible.

This the existing coaliton of cheap crooks who take on the role of poverty-pimp and/or benign neighborhood leader "meets" billionaire anti-tax crusaders with their hand in the redevelopment agency.

Why did this guy, with his backround, get to have this position? Whoever approved his position needs to be fired ,too

I agree with Jerry Russell whoever hired this guy to handle $50,00.00 a year of tax payers money needs to be outed and FIRED on the spot. Please tell the public who this buffoon is so we can make sure he/she is removed from the city payroll now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How could the City of Los Angeles allow a convicted felon to head a neighborhood council. Considering his background, he should never have been allowed to handle money or hold such a position funded by taxpayers.

The council member that appointed this felon should be exposed and recalled. The City of Los Angeles does not get it. These neighborhood councils breed corruption and have no fiscal oversight or background check requirements. Get rid of the councils and save the money for delivery of basic services.

I am sure the gang intervention program with gang member felons spending our tax dollars is also closely monitored like these groups.

Stop the social experiments and spend our tax dollars on important services. If not the people need to recall the Mayor and the current City Council now and throw them out of office!

They need to aduit all Neighborhood Councils to see what projects were done in the community to improve the quality
of life in their area, nobody ever comes and checks.
Where is the money, starts checking board members pockets.

Why are we even giving money to this organization or any similar organization...

Pouring money down a rat hole....not to mention the criminals who are always involved in these organizations...

Support and reward the good and smart people of society...Not the antisocial misfits...


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