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Vernon officials enjoyed first-class travel, luxury hotels and limo service -- all at city expense

Top administrators in the city of Vernon, already among the highest-paid local officials in the state, racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars on first-class flights, rooms at luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and limousine service paid for by the city, records reviewed by The Times show.

The records, which date back to 2005, detail lavish travel expenses billed to the city by its top executives, including former city administrators Donal O’Callaghan and Eric T. Fresch. Some of the trips occurred as recently as this year, when the city laid off employees and stripped the life and health insurance benefits of city workers’ spouses and children because of budget problems.

Details of the travel expenses come amid growing scrutiny of the largely industrial city of 95 residents, where top city attorneys and administrators received high salaries, most notably Fresch, who in 2008 earned more than $1.6 million.

In one short trip in February 2007, O’Callaghan, Fresch and a financial advisor flew first class to New York for a combined cost of more than $12,700. O’Callaghan and the financial advisor, Craig Underwood, each stayed only one night at the Ritz-Carlton, paying a nightly rate of more than $800.

Fresch, who stayed four nights, spent more than $7,600 at the Ritz-Carlton. The hefty bill included services from Paris Limo totaling $2,251 for four separate days. The city also reimbursed Fresch for $485 he spent dining at the Four Seasons New York.

The records show that Fresch routinely commuted from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lives, to L.A. first class for more than $931 per round trip. In a few instances, he spent more than $1,100 for the relatively short air commute. He also incurred a bill of $350 for the United Red Carpet Airport Club, according to one city invoice.

When asked to explain the expenses, Vernon Interim City Administrator Mark Whitworth issued a statement to The Times saying he has directed his staff to review whether a new expense and reimbursement policy is needed to “govern staff travel.”

As for Fresch’s travel expenses, Whitworth added: “Mr. Fresch maintains his residence in Northern California, and the city was aware of this and agreed to reimburse his travel.”

In a city where the few voters have depended on City Hall for their employment and housing and where the many business have supported local government, the travel expenses have nonetheless provoked anger.

“For a city employee to be traveling at that high standard of luxury on taxpayer dollars is highly offensive,” said Steve Freed, president of the Vernon Property Assn. “Many of the property and business owners in the city of Vernon are outraged that our hard-earned tax dollars are being used to support public officials traveling in such a luxurious manner.”

--Sam Allen and Hector Becerra

Comments () | Archives (56)

Typical of the south east area. Maywood which is in between Vernon and Bell should be looked at also. Felipe Aguirre is as shady as Rizzo and Fresch.

The FBI, AG and DA have been investigating Aguirre for some time but neither of these agencies have produced any information to the public. Typical cover up and Aguirre is still out of prison which is where he belongs.

This is insane - I work for a university - as it should be, we fly only coach. When we go to official conferences out of town, we stay two to a room.

Typical of the south east area. Maywood which is in between Vernon and Bell should be looked at also. Felipe Aguirre is as shady as Rizzo and Fresch.

The FBI, AG and DA have been investigating Aguirre for some time but neither of these agencies have produced any information to the public. Typical cover up and Aguirre is still out of prison which is where he belongs.

First the City of Bell,...now Vernon, and there will be more.

Just another example of why we should not allow ANY Government employee to spend ANY money without some sort of public watchdog organization in place to oversee how these clowns spend public funds. Are we all so stupid that we allow this sort of thing to go on and on. It's pretty obvious that very few politicians can be trusted with public money so why doesn't somebody stop all this reckless spending. Probably because almost all of them do it and they're afraid they'll get caught too!

What a bunch of crooks and leaches. I might understand if they were the mayors of New York City or Chicago. But Vernon, CA!! They should have the crap beat out of them. The spending of officials of other CA cities should be investigated, and STOPPED if abused.

Think global, act local. Right?

Hopefully, prosecution and jail time for fraud and corruption will soon move from small-time bandits such as these to the banksters who have robbed billions, even trillions of dollars from us. The only thing standing in the way of this from happening is our politicians.

"Fight Corruption" indeed.

City of Industry is just like Bell and Vernon. Please investigate them! I can't stand the $200,000 per year property tax bill on our warehouse.

The same story continues to replay at every level of government.

1) Give us more money (taxes, bonds, bail-outs, etc.); and
2) Wholesale corruption, graft and greed.

Well, enough is enough. Not one more taxpayer dime until an independant and complete audit is carried out and all the graft and waste is removed from government budgets.

Those found guilty of taking what they were not entitled to should serve jail time. The time for apologies, resignation and lucrative book tours ARE OVER.

We don't need a new Democrat, Republican or Tea Party candidate. What we need is someone with moral fiber, courage, discipline and a sense of what is right and wrong.

Until that person is found our only option is to vote all the bums out of office in the hope that the next batch gets the message and tows the line!

Nothing surprising here........These people think people are stupid and will not scrutinize the accounting records.

Vernon Interim City Administrator Mark Whitworth should be ashamed of himself to state the following: " he has directed his staff to review whether a new expense and reimbursement policy is needed to “govern staff travel.” "

What a bunch of THIEVES!!!!!

Note to Jerry Brown. You want my vote start aggressively going after the City Mayors and city officials of Vernon, Maywood and especially Bell. From racketeering to fraud to tampering with city funds. Find something and stick these criminals.
Note to Meg Whitman. DITO. That is the litmus test. You announce this as your first act. No more run away governments.
You want my vote that's the issue that matters crocked politicians.
I don't care if your a republican or democrat I want honest people in office who have high convictions and are not high convicts.

not much you can do in vernon, its pretty much a family run, family controlled city

sucks to be the LA Times right now

There is an important difference between Vernon and Bell or other small cities near Los Angeles. Bell has an actual population at whose expense the high rolling city officials lived. Vernon is essentially a corporation disguised as a city. Last time I noticed a Times article on the subject there were only 95 residents, all of whom were city employees and their families. The city was founded in 1905 by John B. Leonis and the Furlong brothers, James and Thomas. Under the slogan "Exclusively industrial," the "city" for 105 years has been the private property of a tiny handful of operators and makes its money from supplying warehousing and transportation services to hundreds of companies. It should be judged by the standards applied to corporations, not the standards of cities that have actual populations. And by those standards Vernon's leadership are not particularly out of order. It is true that the masquerade as a city has come back to haunt the city's owners in various ways.

Heads on a stick! Heads on a stick!

time to turn over all the "rocks in government"!!!

Fire whomever hired Fresch and Fresch himself. This is total corruption. These people have no conscious and no morals to be doing what they're doing.

L.A. Times you need to dig deeper and you will find much, much more dirt on these Vernon councilmen.

You know Its kind of sad, that this sort of behavior is no longer shocking. This sort of behavior has been happening for years, the elite will always think they are better than the common person who voted them into office. Being a city official use to be about being a "Public Servant," but when one earns $1.6 Million in a years salary, something is very wrong here! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a Coup.

I think that the County Of Los Angeles should begin an investigation of every city within its boundaries. The salaries and expenses of every public official should be looked at carefully, and anyone found doing illegal things with tax payer money should be sent to prison.

The LA Times needs to also inquire into the high costs to the tax payer that pays for school administration and school board members, including districts, county offices of education and charter schools, who take trips to foreign countries and to high cost conventions and retreats. In particular, how do these high cost conventions, retreats and trips to foreign countries actually benefit students?

OMG this is ridiculous. As a state employee (even those appointed by the Governor) there is a cap on hotel expenses & if one is unable to find a hotel we have to submit an excess lodging request. If you go over your per diem ($6 for breakfast, $10 lunch & $18 for dinner) then you're SOL. We have to get the lowest refundable airfare with the contracted airline & rental cars are also under contract with one company to watch/curb costs. These cities are just running wild

Absolutely disgusting. What ever happened to civil service being a job to serve and protect the citizens? We wonder why would someone who could make more $$$ decide to work for the Government? The answer is simple, private corporations have measures in place to stop this type of rampant waste of money. The Government is either to slow or simply doesn't care to create oversight and watchdog organizations. This is a wake up call. The more digging people find the more dirt will be uncovered. As disgusting as it is you must ask yourself, how long are these criminals and others been at it?

Vernon has the highest average per capita employee compensation in the state. For a complete list of cities, see http://anotheruniqueperspective.blogspot.com/2010/09/average-total-compensation-for-all.html

We voted in these people, we are all to blame. It is up to us to change this.

I find this totally hilarious! The total ignorance of people who allowed this to happen is beyond belief. Vernon gets exactly what it deserves.

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