L.A. County won't file criminal charges over work at Ridley-Thomas home

L.A. County prosecutors have declined to file charges in connection with work performed at supervisor's home

Los Angeles County prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges in connection with taxpayer-funded work performed at Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' home.

The district attorney's office said in a memorandum released Monday that county officials told investigators that the remodeling of Ridley-Thomas' converted garage into a home office last year was within county policy, though prosecutors found the project exceeded its initial costs.

"If they are correct, then the remodel was done with 'authority of law,' and there is no violation," the memo said.

The investigation focused on whether the work — which cost taxpayers at least $10,675, according to the memo — was a misappropriation of public funds.

A district attorney spokeswoman said the office had no immediate comment.

Ridley-Thomas did not respond to an interview request. He has said in the past that the work at his home was proper.

For months, county officials have refused to provide to The Times a full accounting of the costs of the project, which involved adding a security alarm system and making other improvements to Ridley-Thomas' garage.

Previously, the county has said the job cost $10,038 in labor and materials — slightly less than the minimum total cited by the district attorney's office. But records reviewed by The Times suggest the cost could have been greater.

Time sheets for five Los Angeles County employees show a total of 170 hours worked at Ridley-Thomas' home in Leimert Park. If billed at standard county rates, 170 hours would cost more than $20,000.

County officials have declined to discuss the employees' work or how they calculated the costs.

"Please note that the California Public Records Act does not require the county to provide explanations in response to records produced," Assistant County Counsel Judith Whitehurst said in a written reply to questions about the costs. "In this regard, we have no further comment regarding your questions."

It was unclear from the district attorney's memo whether the investigation examined the time sheets. The memo said the county Internal Services Department, which oversaw the project, charged a fixed fee of $10,675 for the work.

According to the memo, the project began after Ridley-Thomas "requested to relocate his home office" to the garage in August 2013. It said the district attorney's office later received an anonymous complaint that the supervisor used county workers to convert the garage into a "playroom." County officials said the remodel was for a home office, the memo stated.

The document also said changes in the project increased its costs and scope, but it did not provide details. It said ISD officials, not Ridley-Thomas, approved the changes, adding that "it appears that they had the authority to do so, so long as they stayed within budget."

"If the witnesses are to be believed," the memo said, the project did stay within budget.

Ridley-Thomas reimbursed the county $3,759 for the purchase and installation of an air conditioner and heater and for a flat-screen television that was installed in the garage office. The amount was on top of the $10,038 that the county had said was the cost to taxpayers.

County officials declined to explain how they arrived at the amount charged to Ridley-Thomas. The district attorney's memo did not address that issue.

The $10,038 included $6,239 the county agreed to pay the contractor and an additional $2,706 spent on materials, according to documents The Times obtained under the state Public Records Act. That would leave about $1,100 to cover the hours worked by county employees, which would pencil out to less than minimum wage for the crews, according to the Times analysis.

The ISD typically charges hourly labor costs per employee — $125 for electricians, for example.

The department also may bill a fixed fee for projects — labor included — based on its "best estimate" of the cost to taxpayers, according to an ISD handbook.

The county and contract workers ripped out the garage's wood-paneled walls and hung drywall, upgraded the power supply in the structure, dug a trench to run electrical conduit through the supervisor's yard, and installed the air conditioner and heater and the wall-mounted television, according to records and interviews.

All of the work was done without required permits. After a Times report on the project, the city's Building and Safety Department opened an investigation into whether the garage had been converted in violation of city codes.

Ridley-Thomas subsequently obtained permits for corrections to make the conversion comply with the rules, including setback requirements.

paul.pringle@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
63°