Prosecutors pile on embezzlement charges in case against Irwindale councilman and ex-city officials
By Thomas Himes, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/28/2011 05:51:41 PM PDT
Updated: 09/28/2011 06:33:18 PM PDT
The District Attorney's Office on Wednesday added felony embezzlement to the list of charges an Irwindale City Councilman and two former city officials face.
Councilman Mark Breceda, 51, former finance director Abe De Dios, 66, and former councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez, 49, each face an additional count of embezzlement of public funds, according to Dave Demerjian, who heads the D.A.'s Public Integrity Unit.
Public corruption prosecutors filed the embezzlement counts after defense attorneys argued in court Tuesday that the statute of limitations had expired on charges of misappropriating public funds.
"We felt it was prudent to amend the complaint," Demerjian said. "Embezzlement of public funds is the same as murder, it has no statue of limitations."
Embezzlement of public funds carries a maximum prison sentence of three years, he said. An arraignment has not yet been scheduled, according to the D.A.'s Office.
Prosecutors are still pursuing the counts of misappropriating public funds, although defense attorney's will resume their efforts to have the charges thrown out of court on Oct. 24, according to the D.A.s Office and court officials.
The charges stem from lavish trips to New York taken by the city officials during which they treated themselves to Broadway shows and New York Yankees' games on the taxpayers' dime, according to the D.A.'s Office.
More than $200,000 of public funds were spent on the trips.
City officials say they were intended to secure a better bond rating for the city.
Breceda, Ramirez and De Dios were initially charged in October 2010, just days before D.A. Steve Cooley's failed bid for state attorney general came to a head at the polls.
In court Tuesday, Demerjian took the stand and testified for five hours, answering questions that focused on the two-year lapse between when prosecutors first learned about the trips and when they decided to investigate them, Demerjian said.
A complaint was initially sent to the D.A.'s office in 2005, but it wasn't until after a report in this newspaper detailed the expenses that an investigation was opened, Demerjian said.
The newspaper report was included in one of two complaints the D.A.'s office received in 2007, Demerjian said.
It wasn't until those complaints came in that Demerjian said prosecutors felt they had enough facts to investigate the matter. They then spent the following three years investigating before charges were filed.
Former City Manager Steve Blancarte was also charged in 2010, along with the other city officials. In July, he pleaded guilty to a single count of misappropriating public funds as part of a plea deal in which prosecutors dropped four additional felony counts.
Blancarte was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and had to pay about $20,000 in fines and restitution, according to the D.A.'s Office.
But, he said, there was a good a chance that Breceda, Ramirez and De Dios would have the charges of misappropriating public funds thrown out of court because prosecutors waited too long to act.