Novel Prosecution of Ex-Lynwood Officials Redefines Public Corruption

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The prosecution did not hide allegations that Lynwood city officials misused credit cards, inappropriately traveled out of the country, and received sexual favors at strip clubs—all on the city dime.

But when two former city councilmembers were found guilty Tuesday, the crime they were found guilty of—illegally ratcheting up their salaries by making well-paid token appearances at city commissions—might have raised eyebrows in other corruption-riddled municipalities like Bell and Vernon.

Louis Byrd and Fernando Pedroza managed to parlay their sub-$10,000-a-year part-time jobs into high-five- and low-six-figure incomes, and prosecutors called that public corruption. The novel argument won the day with the jury after a month-long trial, which found the ex-politicians guilty of misappropriating public funds after four days of deliberation.

Defense attorneys said they would appeal.

Prosecutors have been pursuing Lynwood city officials for a decade, following stories in the Los Angeles Times starting in 1998. At that time, the council created the commissions in question but stipulated that panel members were not to be paid. Instead, they sometimes picked up $450 a pop for perfunctory appearances.

Five councilmembers were criminally charged in 2007. One man pleaded guilty and two others got off when the judge ruled the statute of limitations had run out on their alleged offenses.  

While politicians around the state probably took note of the decision, so did legal scholars. “That's novel,” Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, told the Los Angeles Times. “We probably could say that about many public officials . . . . I actually think that's going to be a kind of challenging case to make.”

Public corruption cases more typically involve bribery, shakedowns, misused campaign contributions, and the like. But if this verdict is upheld on appeal, the prosecution tactic could find its way into upcoming criminal proceedings against former officials in the city of Bell . . . for starters.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

2 Former Lynwood Officials Guilty of Illegally Boosting Salaries (by Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times)

Lynwood Corruption Trial Closely Watched (by Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times)

Ex-Lynwood Officials Guilty of Misappropriating Funds (by Rina Palta, KPCC)

Former Councilmembers Louis Byrd and Fernando Pedroza Found Guilty (by Stephanie Rivera, Lynwood Patch)

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