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Prosecutors examine spending by L.A. supervisors

March 18, 2010 |  1:13 pm
Los Angeles County prosecutors are examining whether county supervisors broke the law when they spent millions of taxpayer dollars on pet projects without a public vote or discussion.

The inquiry began in response to a complaint received last week when The Times detailed some of the $3.4 million each of the five supervisors is given to spend annually, said Head Deputy Dist. Atty. David Demerjian, who oversees the district attorney’s public integrity division.

Among the expenditures was $25,000 by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to buy a place in Who’s Who in Black Los Angeles. Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe and Ridley-Thomas used some of their money to pay for cars and chauffeurs. Knabe's armed driver makes $90,000 annually.

Demerjian, whose division typically prosecutes public corruption cases, said he assigned two prosecutors to handle the inquiry. One is reviewing whether supervisors violated the state’s open meetings law by spending the funds without a public vote.

The second is examining whether supervisors had the legal authority to spend the money.

“To expend public funds, you have to spend according to some resolution, some statute or some charter section and it has to serve a governmental purpose,” Demerjian said Thursday.

He said prosecutors have asked the county counsel’s office what authority the board of supervisors had for the so-called discretionary spending and expects a response next week. He declined to name the person who sent the complaint, which was made the same day The Times published its story.

The supervisors’ discretionary accounts are used to cover staff salaries, expenses, travel, special programs and donations to outside groups.

The Times found that supervisors gave a total of $4.8 million to outside groups in the last 28 months – sometimes raising their public profiles or benefiting friends and political supporters.

Other jurisdictions insist on greater accountability out of concern that such spending might otherwise be an illegal gift of public funds. Surrounding counties require public discussion of donations to outside groups, as well as a detailed accounting and a vote.

-- Jack Leonard

Check out The Times' database on supervisors spending and staff salaries.

Photo credits: Los Angeles Times