Ex-Vernon leader accepts plea for using city money for golf, massages, meals
A longtime city administrator of Vernon pleaded guilty to illegally using public money to pay for golf outings, massages and meals.
The plea on Thursday involved Bruce Malkenhorst, who led Vernon for decades and was at one time California’s highest paid government official. He also holds the distinction of having the state’s highest public pension, receiving just over $500,000 a year.
Los Angeles County prosecutors accused Malkenhorst, 76, of illegally reimbursing himself for expenses -- including paying off his personal Visa card –- and getting the city to pay for political donations he made. For five years, he denied the charges, and case remained in legal limbo.
The state Assembly voted overwhelmingly last month on the bill to dissolve Vernon, which has been dogged for decades by claims that it is a fiefdom run by a small group of people. The state Senate is expected to address the bill, AB 46, sometime next month.
The former administrator has become a potent symbol for Vernon’s critics. Assembly Speaker John Perez, the author of the disincorporation bill, often points out in his speeches the $42,000 monthly CalPERS pension Malkenhorst continues to receive.
Perez’s spokesman, John Vigna, said Thursday that Malkenhorst’s plea was “a reminder of the status quo that has been allowed to flourish in Vernon for far too long.”
Malkenhorst was charged in November of 2006, but his trial was held up as the California Supreme Court considered a case dealing with whether specific criminal intent needed to be proved to obtain a conviction in situations involving misappropriation of public funds.
Sean Hassett, the prosecutor, said the Malkenhorst case became part of the appeal, and as a result dragged on for years without a trial.
“We would show up in court, but there was nothing to do, just status conferencing,” he said. “For about the last four years, people were going to court and saying, ‘No, your honor. No, your honor. No your honor.’”
Malkenhorst’s attorney, Michael Artan, said the former city administrator never intended to do anything wrong but agreed to the plea so he could move on with his life.
Vernon spokesman Fred MacFarlane released a statement saying: "Mr. Malkenhorst has not had any relationship with the city of Vernon for the past five years. The city of Vernon is pleased that is being repaid $60,000 in restitution from Mr. Malkenhorst. Reforms, such as those adopted by the City Council today, are designed to improve the accountability and transparency of Vernon."
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Photo: The city of Vernon. Credit: L.A. Times