Los Angeles County prosecutors are examining whether county supervisors broke the law in spending millions of taxpayer dollars on pet projects without a public vote or discussion, it was reported today.
The inquiry began in response to a complaint received last week when the Los Angeles Times detailed some of the $3.4 million per year that each of the five supervisors receives to spend at his or her discretion, Head Deputy District Attorney David Demerjian, who oversees the district attorney's public integrity division, told the newspaper.
Supervisors used the money to pay for drivers, hold parties for friends and lobbyists, and make donations to outside groups, according to The Times. Among the expenditures was $25,000 by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to buy a place in "Who's Who in Black Los Angeles."
Demerjian, whose division typically prosecutes public corruption cases, told The Times that he assigned two prosecutors to handle the inquiry. One prosecutor is reviewing whether supervisors violated the state's open meetings law by spending the funds without a public vote, while the other is examining whether supervisors had the legal authority to spend the money, according to the newspaper.
To prove that an expenditure is a misappropriation of public funds, prosecutors must show that officials spent money without legal authority and that they or someone else benefited. A defense attorney and former prosecutor told The Times that it's tough to make such cases.
Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mike Antonovich told The times they welcomed the district attorney's inquiry and that county lawyers had always advised them that the donations were legal.