Omar Bradley was mayor of Compton from 1993 to 2001. Photo: ABC 7
Omar Bradley convicted of misusing public funds; ex-Compton mayor barred for life from holding public office
LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California jury has convicted former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley on 13-year-old charges that he took public funds to pay for personal expenses including pay-per-view movies, golf clothing, green fees, golf balls, cigars, and hotel rooms.
County prosecutors filed two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds. During a 2 1/2-week trial Deputy District Atty. Ana Lopez said that between 1999 and 2001, Bradley had double billed the city for personal expenses using a city credit card and cash advances for travel.
Lopez said Bradley played at executive golf clubs with entertainment attorney and city spokesman Frank Wheaton and said that it strained credulity that the golf games were part of city business. She also cast doubt on Bradley’s claim that he bought golf clothing at these meetings because he lacked the appropriate attire.
Many of the receipts shown to jurors during the trial were for nominal charges. One included a $15 charge for a Slazenger golf hat at the California Country Club in Whittier, Calif., and $288 for shorts, a shirt, and green fees at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego.
Lopez said during her closing arguments that the dollar amount did not matter as much as the state’s claim that Bradley had used public money that did not benefit the city of Compton.
“Superficially it may seem that it’s a small amount. But the principal looms large,” Lopez said. “A public official is not royalty,” and there are no “kings or queens of Compton,” she added.
The 59-year-old Bradley appeared on the stand for two days of testimony this week to profess his innocence. He said he never used taxpayer funds for personal expenses and that it was only convicted city manager John Johnson who had the power to approve or not approve charges under $5,000.
“If anything cost more than $5,000 it had to come to the public,” Bradley said on the stand, July 24. “We had no independent spending authority.”
Bradley said he had played golf with officials to discuss several city projects, including efforts to improve lighting in the city’s streets to reduce crime, plans to turn a disused National Guard armory into a boxing gym, and the creation of a sports and entertainment complex called Oasis.
At other times, Bradley justified spending public money for taxi cabs during a visit to Washington for a conference with the Congressional Black Caucus, and winter clothing and cabs he had paid for as he prepared for a keynote speech at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He said a hurricane had hit Washington during the 1999 visit, and that he was unprepared for the cold weather when he landed in Massachusetts.
Bradley had only paid for several pay-per-view movies with his city credit card to help him unwind as he worked on city business, he testified.
His attorney Robert Hill called his client’s justifications “objectively reasonable.” He urged jurors during his closing argument on July 26, to “restore his good name” and rule that Bradley had not knowingly broken the law or was guilty of criminal negligence.
“There is a line. But these aren’t close to the line,” Hill said of Bradley’s purchases. “They weren’t Burger King but they weren’t the fanciest of things. We’re talking about golf balls.”
Hill argued that if Bradley had intended to misappropriate public money, he would have used cash advances instead of leaving a paper trail with the city credit card. Instead of a pattern of deception, there was a pattern of honesty, Hill said, recalling how Bradley bought some steelhead golf clubs with a city credit card but then paid the money back the next day.
“Mr. Bradley was transparent in his actions – conspicuous, open, transparent,” Hill said.
The attorney also criticized Lopez for diminishing Bradley and calling him a child, pointing to his experience as a politician, high school teacher, and assistant superintendent of Lynwood Unified School District.
“That’s not the work of the child. That’s insulting.” Hill said.
Both the prosecution and defense rested on Tues., July 25. Jurors began deliberations on Thursday morning after a full day of closing arguments.
The former official was convicted of misappropriation and misuse of public funds in 2004. Eight years later, a California appeals court overturned his conviction after the California Supreme Court found prosecutors have to make clear that defendants know they are breaking the law in cases related to the theft of public funds. Ex-Councilman Amen Rahh and Johnson were also convicted for charging personal items on city-issued credit cards.
Hill said in May that Bradley had already served the entirety of his sentence before the appeals court’s reversal.
A mainstay of the Compton political scene since the early 1990s, Bradley served as the city’s mayor for two terms from 1993 to 2001. Prosecutors decided to retry him as he ran for office in 2013.
Bradley took on Compton Mayor Aja Brown in the June 6, 2017, general election in which the incumbent prevailed.
Bradley is now barred for life from holding public office. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli presided over the retrial.
Courthouse News Service