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L.A. councilman's ex-aide charged in water district corruption case

Prosecutors file corruption charge against Rob Katherman, former aide to L.A. Councilman Curren Price

Prosecutors filed felony public corruption charges on Tuesday against a former high-level aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, alleging the advisor participated in a scheme to send money from a Torrance-based nonprofit group to an elected water board member.

Rob Katherman, 68, and his wife, Marilyn Katherman, surrendered Tuesday and were each charged with two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds, District Attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said. Prosecutors allege the Kathermans, while serving on the board of the nonprofit Adopt a Stormdrain Foundation, provided money to cover the private expenses of Ron Smith, a member of the West Basin Municipal Water District.

Smith allegedly persuaded West Basin to provide multiple contributions over a three-year period to the nonprofit, Robison said. Prosecutors also allege the Kathermans wrote checks from the nonprofit's account that covered the school and college tuition of Smith's children. The checks also covered repairs to Smith's boat, the D.A.'s office said.

Smith, who has served on West Basin's board since 2006, was arrested last week and faces one count of financial conflict of interest, two counts of misappropriation of public funds and four counts of perjury. He has pleaded not guilty.

Jonathan Cruz, a deputy public defender representing Smith, could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

Katherman resigned Monday from his job with Price, who represents part of South Los Angeles. He had been serving as an adviser to Price on economic development. In an interview, he said both he and his wife will be proven innocent.

"Any funds that were spent or misspent by Ron Smith, I was completely unaware of," he said. "I've written checks to nonprofits thinking they were for educational purposes, and I’m not quite sure how these checks got credited to Ron’s family expenses.”

Katherman said the case is part of a vendetta being waged by Cathy Beauregard, a former board member of Adopt a Stormdrain, which promotes litter-free communities and reductions of the impact of storm water runoff on coastal waters, among other things.

Beauregard, he said, contacted several law enforcement agencies about him and his wife after he declined to make her president of the nonprofit.

Beauregard said she was removed from the nonprofit's board because she had questioned some of the group's spending.

"There’s no vendetta," Beauregard said. "There were checks being written out by Rob and Marilyn that I questioned. They wouldn’t tell me what the checks were for, so I went to the authorities."

In a statement Price said: "These charges are serious, and it is in the best interest of my district and the city that Rob Katherman resigned his post yesterday. The trust we are given by our community as public officials is a privilege and I have taken very seriously in my more than 20 years as an elected official."

West Basin Municipal Water District, which serves 17 cities in and around Los Angeles County's South Bay, released a statement last week saying agency officials do not know the facts surrounding the case.

"West Basin wants our communities and stakeholders to know that this situation will not impact our commitment to transparency and sound financial and resource management of public funds," board vice president Gloria Gray said in the statement.

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