2 former Lynwood council members found guilty of corruption
Two former Lynwood council members accused of misusing city credit cards and illegally boosting their salaries were convicted Tuesday in a case that could have far-reaching legal consequences for local government officials.
Louis Byrd and Fernando Pedroza each were found guilty of misappropriating public funds following a month-long trial in which prosecutors used a novel legal argument that the officials broke the law by accepting tens of thousands of dollars in stipends for sitting on city commissions that appeared to do little, if any, work.
The added pay boosted the part-time council members' income from less than $10,000 a year to as much as $112,000 in one year for Byrd and $72,000 for Pedroza, prosecutors said.
The trial was widely viewed as a test case for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which had never made such a legal argument before a jury but is expected to do so again in its case against former council members in the city of Bell, who also are charged with misappropriating public funds.
The Compton jury deliberated more than four days before reaching the verdicts.
Similar charges have been leveled against council members in Bell, where stipends for sitting on various commissions -- in some cases for meetings that never took place or lasted only minutes -- boosted the annual pay of most of the council members to nearly $100,000.
Defense attorneys for the former Lynwood officials argued that their clients relied on advice from a succession of city attorneys and city managers who assured them that their actions were legal. The commissions conducted important city work for which the then-council members deserved to be paid, the defense lawyers said.
In addition to taking aim at the salaries, prosecutors argued that the former council members also abused their position by charging inappropriate bills to the city. Among the most salacious charges: a $1,500 night out at a Guadalajara strip club, where dancers allegedly performed sexual favors for Pedroza and the then-city manager. Pedroza denied the allegation.
-- Abby Sewell
Photo: Former Lynwood Councilman Fernando Pedroza is shown in 2003. Pedroza and another former councilman were each found guilty of misappropriating public funds. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times