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Former Vernon mayor fined more than $500,000 in voter fraud case [Updated]

January 21, 2010 | 11:36 am


Following his conviction on charges of voter fraud and conspiracy, former Vernon Mayor Leonis Malburg was ordered to pay more than $500,000 today in fines and reimbursements to the city he once led, bringing an ignoble end to a political career that spanned more than half a century in the tiny industrial city in southeast Los Angeles County.

[Updated at 4:15 p.m. Friday: An earlier version of this post said his career spanned more than half a decade.]

Though prosecutors had asked for jail time, Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson cited Malburg’s age – 80 – and his medical history in deciding against incarceration. But the judge imposed the maximum fines, placed Malburg on probation for five years and prohibited him from holding public office in the future.

“These are serious crimes involving fraud and dishonesty that merit serious punishment,” Johnson said.

Malburg sat quietly in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom beside his wife, who was convicted of similar charges during a bench trial last year. Dominica Malburg, 83, was ordered to pay more than $40,000 in fines and fees.

The couple spoke only when asked if they understood the sentence. They declined to comment after the hearing.

In December, Johnson found the couple guilty of engaging in an elaborate sham in which they pretended to reside in Vernon while actually living in a large home in Hancock Park.

As part of the sentence, Leonis Malburg must repay the city of Vernon $395,588 for his salary and other compensation he received after assuming office after his 2006 reelection. His wife was placed on probation for three years and was also prohibited from holding public office.

Critics have accused Vernon’s leaders of running a political machine that kept power in the hands of the city’s founding family and a small group of other leaders.

Malburg served as mayor and councilman for more than half a century until he resigned last year. His grandfather, John Baptiste Leonis, a charismatic Basque immigrant, founded Vernon, and the family name came to grace everything from a street to a power plant.

But allegations that the city’s founding family lived elsewhere persisted for decades. In 1978, a county grand jury charged Malburg with perjury and fraudulent voting, saying he falsely claimed to live in Vernon. The charges were later dropped.

-- Jack Leonard

Photo: Leonis Malburg, left, former mayor of Vernon, and his wife Dominica Malburg walk out of a downtown courthouse after sentencing. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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