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Ex-Irwindale city manager pleads guilty to misappropriation of funds

July 14, 2011 |  5:10 pm

Photo: Retired Irwindale City Manager Steve Blancarte, left, stands next to his attorney John Tyre while making an appearance in court on Oct. 27, 2010. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
A retired Irwindale city manager pleaded guilty Thursday to misappropriating public funds to buy tickets to Broadway shows and baseball games and to dine at five-star restaurants along with other city officials during trips to New York to secure bonds for the city.

Steve Blancarte, 56, one of four Irwindale city officials charged last October, agreed to repay $5,303 in restitution and $5,000 in fines by Aug. 9, when he is set to be sentenced.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Schwartz said if Blancarte pays by that date, the remaining four counts of misappropriation of public funds will be dismissed and he will be placed on three years' probation.

From 2001 to 2005, Blancarte; Councilman Mark Breceda, 51; finance director Abe De Dios, 66; and former Councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez, 49, took trips to New York to discuss city bonds.

Prosecutors allege that during each trip the officials bought tickets to Broadway shows and sporting events that had nothing to do with city business. Blancarte attended plays including “Wicked,” “The Producers,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Mamma Mia,” along with Yankees and Mets games, Schwartz said.

Blancarte’s attorney, John Tyre, said his client decided to plead guilty for health reasons. “He has heart issues. This is going to take a long time ... and physically it was just very difficult for him,” Tyre said.

The other three Irwindale officials are fighting the charges.

According to the complaint, much of the tab was initially paid by financial consultants who submitted the expenses for reimbursement to the city. They were not itemized or fully detailed and were not discussed by the City Council.

The itinerary for a 2003 trip , for instance, included fewer than eight hours of scheduled meetings over six days but cost the affordable housing fund more than $37,000 for such expenses as chauffeured cars and breakfast, lunch and dinner at famous New York restaurants.

According to the itinerary, Breceda and other officials arrived Saturday and checked into the Ritz Carlton.

Sunday's agenda included brunch at the River Cafe, and an afternoon matinee of "Jackie Mason Laughing Room Only" followed by dinner at Atelier, a restaurant at the Ritz Carlton.

On Monday, officials met for a few hours with bankers and then lunched at Bouley Bakery and had dinner at Peter Luger Steakhouse.

The next day, they met with financiers but were done in time for lunch at Le Bernardin. Their afternoon was free, with plenty of time before going to "Phantom of the Opera."

The total cost of five trips to New York between 2001 and 2005 was $205,678, according to documents obtained by The Times.

More than $75,000 went for trips to discuss housing bonds and, according to one city official, was paid from the affordable housing fund.

Details of the Irwindale officials' trips were first published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in 2007. That and an anonymous complaint prompted the district attorney to open an investigation.

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-- Richard Winton and Jessica Garrison

Photo: Retired Irwindale City Manager Steve Blancarte, left, stands next to his attorney John Tyre while making an appearance in court Oct. 27, 2010. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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