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Former Compton Mayor among Five Officials Arrested after Probe

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By Cynthia E. Griffin
Special to the NNPA from WAVE Community Newspapers

(NNPA)—Former Mayor Omar Bradley and four current city officials—including three city council members—have been arrested on felony embezzlement charges.

Council members Yvonne Arceneaux, Amen Rahh and Delores Zurita, along with City Manager John Johnson, were arrested after they were indicted by a county grand jury. The exact allegations against the five will not be revealed until the grand jury indictment is unsealed in court.

The charges were filed by the county District Attorney’s Office, which reportedly has been investigating the alleged misuse of city credit cards for the past three years. The officials were released after posting $25,000 bail, and ordered to return to Superior Court for a March 24 arraignment, according to Sheriff’s Department officials.

Milton Grimes, attorney for Bradley, and Marie F. Alex, the lawyer for Rahh, both declared their clients’ innocence at a late-evening press conference last Monday and said they intended to file a motion seeking to recuse the district attorney from the case based on personal involvement. Compton’s current Mayor Eric Perrodin is a deputy district attorney.

“This has been a witch hunt and a vehement attempt to prosecute Mr. Bradley since 2001,” Grimes said, adding that allegations are based on what he said is a city policy and practice to allow personnel to use city credit cards for personal use and then repay the money.

But Compton City Attorney Legrand Clegg denied that the city policy allows personal use of city credit cards.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, the arrests are part of an ongoing criminal investigation, and follow a Feb.12 search of City Hall and numerous other locations by investigators in the District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Division.

A separate federal investigation is also under way, purportedly looking at city council involvement with Lynwood City Councilman Paul Richards and Michael Aloyan, owner of Hub City Waste Disposal, the company which has the city’s trash hauling contract.

Aloyan recently pleaded guilty to bribing a Carson city council member in an effort to win a trash contract there in February 2002.
“I wasn’t really surprised. I knew this has been coming for quite a while,” said Royce Esters of the arrests. Esters is a long-time Compton resident and president of the civil rights organization, National Association for Equal Justice in America.

“The problem is that we have to introduce whoever is going to be on the city council in Compton or any city in America to ‘we’ and not ‘I.’ Without leadership, without involving the city, this is what happens.

When you’re interested in yourself instead of the city, this is what happens,” said Esters, who has lived in the community since 1956 and at one time was president of the NAACP and the Compton Crime Commission.

Community activist Mollie Bell was not surprised at the arrests, either.
“There has been an ongoing investigation,” she said. “But I believe a person is innocent until proven guilty. If they did something wrong, it will come out. But I think the timing is awfully strange,” she added, referring to next month’s municipal election.

“Professor Rahh and Ms. Zurita are up against two people the mayor supports. If we find out tomorrow that everybody was not guilty, by the time the election is over this will impact it. Now instead of talking about the wonderful job and new things Rahh and Zurita have done, I’m going to have to spend time talking about the allegations and charges,” added Bell.

Business owner Benjamin Holifield also said he was worried that the arrests could have a dampening affect on residents going to the polls April 15.

“I think all the madness needs to be cut out,” he said. “The newspapers are saying that Compton is on trial. I’m concerned. Regardless of the guilt or innocence, it’s terrible for the city,” Holified said.

Kris Bailey, a political consultant who ran for the Paramount City Council Tuesday, sees something more sinister in the arrests, particularly that of Arceneaux, whom she described as someone well liked by the citizens and a person of the utmost integrity.

“I think Mayor Perrodin is out to get Ms. Arceneaux because she won’t rubber stamp what he wants to do,” said Bailey. “She accused Perrodin of co-conspiring to prevent her from obtaining a union endorsement for her city council candidacy.”

There also were those who said the arrests were a good thing.
“The good citizens coming in and out of city are so glad,” said Lorraine Cervantes, a longtime community activist. “Thank God it’s going to impact the election because those two have got to go,” she said of Rahh and Zurita. “Now everybody can see them for the criminals they really are.”

While none of the five arrested would comment, Rahh had earlier said: “I welcome the investigation. Maybe we can bring it to closure and resolve it.”

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