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Los Angeles city councilman charged with embezzlement may face suspension

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LA Post: Los Angeles city councilman charged with embezzlement may face suspension
The Los Angeles Post
June 14, 2023

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The president of the Los Angeles City Council said he will file a motion Wednesday to suspend a councilman charged with embezzlement, perjury and other crimes in the latest corruption scandal among leadership of the nation’s second-largest city.

Council President Paul Krekorian said he was shocked by the criminal complaint against Curren Price Jr., whom he referred to as “a friend and colleague” while stressing that the presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle of the U.S. Constitution.

Price, who has served on the council for a decade, faces five counts of embezzlement of government funds, three counts of perjury and two counts of conflict of interest, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

In a letter to Krekorian, Price said he was stepping down from committee assignments and leadership responsibilities “while I navigate through the judicial system to defend my name.”

Los Angeles government has been shaken by a series of scandals.

In March, former Democratic City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas — a one-time legislator, county supervisor and a fixture in local politics for decades — was found guilty in federal court of seven felonies, including conspiracy, bribery and fraud.

After an FBI investigation, two other former council members, Mitch Englander and Jose Huizar, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in recent years.

Last year, a racism scandal that broke public trust in Los Angeles government triggered the resignations in October of then-City Council President Nury Martinez and a powerful labor leader, Ron Herrera.

In the new case, Price is accused of having a financial interest in projects that he voted on as a council member, and having the city pay nearly $34,000 in medical benefits for his now-wife while he was still married to another woman, District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.

Between 2019 and 2021, Price’s wife allegedly received payments totaling more than $150,000 from developers before Price voted to approve projects, according to Gascón. Price also is accused of failing to disclose the money his wife received on government forms.

The criminal complaint said a consulting firm operated by Price’s wife received a series of payments from companies incorporated or co-owned by Thomas Safran & Associates, GTM Holdings/Works and GTM Holdings, before Price voted to approve funding for the companies’ projects. Emails seeking comment from those entities were not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

Price’s attorney, David Willingham, declined to comment Tuesday, saying he had not seen a copy of the criminal complaint.

Krekorian pledged to undertake an orderly process that will include input from Price’s district on how to proceed. He said the suspension motion will initially be referred to the council’s rules committee.

“This will not be a process that will be rushed through as has happened in the past, because it is important that the council have an opportunity to discuss and debate all of the issues surrounding this,” Krekorian said.

Price was first elected to the council in 2013. His district includes South Los Angeles and parts of downtown. His term is set to expire in 2026.

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Associated Press writer John Antczak contributed to this report.

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