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Irwindale officials spent lavishly during business trips to discuss housing for the poor

October 27, 2010 | 10:10 am

The Irwindale officials charged Wednesday with misappropriating public funds took lavish business trips to New York City, including meals at five-star restaurants, evenings at Broadway shows, chauffeured rides and nights at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, according to records obtained by The Times.

The spending came as leaders in Irwindale spent $87 million in affordable housing funds over eight years, but only built 42 homes. Two trips to New York were for the purpose of discussing bonds for housing for the poor in the San Gabriel Valley city of about 1,500 people.

Councilman Mark Breceda, retired City Manager Steve Blancarte and finance director Abe De Dios are charged with five felony counts of misappropriating public funds. Former Councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez faces one count.

One trip in 2003 had fewer than eight hours of scheduled meetings on the itinerary, but city officials spent six nights at the Ritz-Carlton, according to expense reports and itineraries.

During that trip to discuss ratings for the bonds, city officials arrived on Saturday and checked into the Ritz-Carlton. Sunday's agenda featured no business meetings but did include brunch at the River Café, where the current prix fixe menu for omelets or poached eggs is $55.

The afternoon schedule included a 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 but also ate lunch at Bouley Bakery and dinner at Peter Luger Steakhouse. The next day, they met again with bankers at 10 a.m., but were done in time for lunch at ritzy Le Bernardin. Their afternoon was left free, with plenty of time before the curtain rose for "Phantom of the Opera."

Wednesday was similar, with a short meeting in the morning, followed by lunch at the exclusive sushi restaurant Nobu and a late afternoon hockey game.

Total cost to Irwindale taxpayers: $37,852.

-- Jessica Garrison