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1987 Campaign Spending Scrutinized : Inglewood’s Mayor Answers Investigator

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Times Staff Writer

A month after the state attorney general’s office first requested an interview with him, Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent has met with an investigator as part of an inquiry into possible misuse of campaign funds.

Vincent was accompanied by a lawyer and an accountant at the meeting last Friday, according to Chris Foley, the deputy attorney general conducting the investigation.

“They answered all of our questions,” Foley said Wednesday. He would not give details, but said he has made a recommendation that will be passed on to Atty. Gen. John Van De Kamp.

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Carl Douglas, the attorney who represented Vincent at the meeting, said he is confident that the investigation will find there was “no intentional wrongdoing” on the mayor’s part. He said the meeting at Inglewood City Hall lasted about 90 minutes.

Vincent has declined to comment on the matter.

The investigation centers on the mayor’s apparent billing of a 1987 trip to both the city and his campaign fund, and on his acknowledged use of campaign funds to repair a truck he owns. Billing the expenses to his campaign could violate laws prohibiting personal use of campaign funds, investigators say.

Vincent has denied wrongdoing in the matter since The Times reported in September the apparent double-billing and the mayor’s failure to itemize five years of campaign travel expenses, as required by state law.

Most of these expenses, which total about $50,000, are shown on campaign spending reports as payments to American Express and to a travel agency. They do not show who ultimately received the money, as required by state law.

During that same period, Vincent also charged $39,000 in travel expenses to the city.

Vincent recently said it is possible he “inadvertently” charged the nearly $1,000 spent on the 1987 trip to both his campaign and the city. He maintains that the $1,078 expense for truck repairs was justified because he uses the vehicle only for political purposes.

Foley said this week that Vincent indicated at the meeting that his accountant would provide some information explaining campaign travel payments.

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The state Fair Political Practices Commission is also investigating the mayor’s failure to properly report travel spending. Inglewood City Clerk Anita Harris asked the mayor more than three months ago to amend his campaign statements.

Attorney Douglas said: “We will fully reply to all proper requests rectifying any inaccuracies” in campaign reporting.

When public officials are found to have used campaign funds for personal expenses, the attorney general’s office sometimes directs the officials to repay their campaign fund, state officials said. Such a remedy is possible whether or not it is determined that the personal use was intentional, according to Eugene Hill, head of the attorney general’s Government Law Division in Sacramento.

Douglas said the mayor will reimburse his campaign fund if double billings are found and such a repayment is sought.

A civil suit could also be filed alleging a violation of the law that prohibits personal use of campaign funds.

The penalty for misuse of campaign funds is $500 or twice the amount of the improper expenditure, whichever is greater.

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The meeting last week came after a second request by Foley, who received no response to his initial request, made in a Nov. 28 letter. Vincent said last month that he had not had time to respond.

Douglas had no comment on the delay.

Vincent is also the target of an unrelated Fair Political Practices inquiry into whether he failed to report contributions made to Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas’ campaign in 1987. He has characterized errors on his campaign statements as acts of “omission rather than commission.”

After The Times reported on the mayor’s failure to itemize thousands of dollars in travel spending over five years, he hired a new accountant with campaign-spending expertise to prepare his disclosure statements.

Asked if the mayor blamed the campaign reporting problems on accounting errors, Douglas said, “I think something can be inferred by his decision to hire a different campaign consultant. . . . He has served the people of Inglewood well and he hopes to have this episode behind him.”

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