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Inglewood Mayor Fails to Document Travel Expenses

Times Staff Writer

Since taking office as Inglewood mayor in 1983, Edward Vincent has failed to itemize and explain at least $50,000 in travel-related expenses paid by his campaign fund, records show. State law requires that such expenditures be itemized to show who got the money and the purpose of the expense.

City records and campaign statements also suggest that in one instance the mayor may have charged a trip to his campaign fund while being reimbursed by the city for the same travel.

Vincent declined to be interviewed or to explain the apparent billing of the same trip to both the city and his campaign. “Write what you want to write,” he said when asked about the matter during a break in Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

On Nov. 20 of last year, records show that the city of Inglewood reimbursed Vincent $933.45 for a four-day driving tour Nov. 5-8 to farmers markets in San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and the San Francisco area. The city reimbursed Vincent for American Express receipts totaling $604. The bills included two nights’ worth of hotel and meal charges for two people at the Inn at Morro Bay and one night at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. The rest of the money is described as mileage and expenses.

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Five days later, Vincent’s campaign paid $953.41 to American Express, according to his campaign disclosure statement. The payment is listed as travel and is accompanied by the description “Farmer’s Market Tour/Morro Bay.”

That description is less than the state law requires, but it is one of the few entries in Vincent’s campaign records where any information about the nature of a trip is provided. The state Political Reform Act requires candidates to itemize each campaign expenditure of more than $100 by indicating the amount, a brief description of the purpose of the expenditure and the name and address of the recipient. For credit card payments, candidates are required to report the final recipient of the money, such as a hotel or airline.

The law makes it difficult for candidates to convert campaign funds to personal uses, according to Robert Stern, co-director of the California Commission on Campaign Financing.

If the Morro Bay expenditures had been itemized on the campaign statement, it would be possible to determine how the campaign money was spent and whether the mayor obtained reimbursement from the city for expenses actually paid by his campaign fund.

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It is illegal for an official to appropriate public money to a use not in “the due and lawful execution” of his job, according to Penal Code Section 504.

It is also illegal for a candidate to use campaign money for personal use, which Election Code Section 12401 defines as a use that creates “a substantial personal benefit” and one that does not have “more than a negligible political, legislative or governmental purpose.” Travel paid for with campaign funds must have a “reasonable relationship” to such purposes, under the code.

When informed of the apparent billing of the trip to both the city and the mayor’s campaign fund, City Manager Paul Eckles said it is not part of the city’s normal audit procedures to check city reimbursements against officeholders’ campaign disclosure statements. He said he would bring the matter to the mayor’s attention.

“If the mayor inadvertently charged both the city and his fund, I’m sure he would want to know about that,” Eckles said. “We would never have occasion to look at political filings. Our finance department deals strictly with reimbursement claims.”

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The 1987 campaign statement that lists the Morro Bay trip is part of about $42,700 in unitemized campaign expenditures, almost all of them to American Express, for unspecified credit card charges since 1983. For most, the only description of the expense is the letter “T,” the campaign form’s designation for travel, accommodations and meals.

During the same five-year period, the city spent about $38,000 on air fare, lodging, meals and other travel expenses for Vincent. That figure includes about $13,700 in reimbursement for American Express receipts that Vincent turned in to the city.

Vincent, who was reelected to a second four-year term in 1986, has been on unpaid leave from his job as a Los Angeles County probation officer for about four years. As Inglewood’s part-time mayor, he earns $10,800 a year plus a car allowance.

The mayor has raised as much as $135,000 a year in campaign contributions. More than any other mayor in the South Bay, he is a full-time politician who has used his war chest to establish himself as a dominant political figure. He spends large sums on his campaigns and those of candidates for the City Council and school board, and he has expressed interest in running for higher office.

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The Times reviewed all of Vincent’s statements filed in the last five years after reporting Aug. 21 that his statement for the first half of this year did not itemize expenditures. The statement, which covers January through June of this year, lists a single American Express expense of $6,220 for travel. The entry is undated and gives no breakdown of expenditures or recipients.

The mayor said last month and again Tuesday that he would amend the campaign statement to include the omitted information. In a phone interview last week, Vincent campaign consultant Rod Wright said amended statements will be filed with the city clerk “within the next couple of weeks.”

City Clerk Hermanita Harris has said she will request amendments for incomplete campaign statements filed since she took office in 1986 but not for earlier reports because she was not city clerk when they were filed.

As do Vincent’s campaign statements for the last five years, city records show numerous American Express charges by the mayor, for which he was reimbursed by the city. The records cannot be directly compared, however, because the campaign statements are not itemized.

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In 1984, for example, the city spent $5,900 on travel for the mayor, including two trips to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The figure includes $2,025 in American Express reimbursements to the mayor.

For the same year, Vincent’s campaign statements list a $2,500 payment of campaign funds listing the U.S. Conference of Mayors as recipient and described only as travel. The forms list a total of $6,836 in unitemized American Express payments.

In addition to the unitemized credit card payments over the last five years, the Vincent campaign reports say the mayor has paid $8,400 to an Inglewood travel agency for services. Such payments also should have been specified to show the ultimate recipient of the money, such as a hotel or airline, according to spokeswoman Sandra Michioku of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Vincent’s campaign spending disclosures have been an issue before. The state Fair Political Practices Commission is conducting an inquiry into whether Vincent and Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas properly reported contributions and other services Vincent provided to Thomas during Thomas’ 1987 election campaign. Thomas’ election was overturned in court and is being litigated.

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