The state attorney general’s office charged Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent on Monday with illegally using about $5,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses during the last two years.
The charge was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and was the first such action against an elected official under a 1981 law that bars personal use of campaign funds, according to Eugene Hill, head of the attorney general’s government law division.
The complaint, which caps a four-month state investigation prompted by articles in The Times, asks that Vincent pay fines totaling about $10,000, twice the amount allegedly misspent.
Vincent spent the campaign money on travel, clothing, auto repair and a veterinarian’s bill, among other things, the complaint alleges.
Vincent, who could not be reached for comment, has acknowledged improper use of campaign funds in the past but said it was unintentional and resulted from sloppy bookkeeping. Hill said that explanation was “not satisfactory.”
In other cases in which officeholders have violated the law, the attorney general’s office has been satisfied when the campaign funds were repaid. In this case, stiffer penalties are being sought because investigators believe that Vincent systematically and knowingly violated the law, Hill said.
“There did appear to be a pattern of activity that went over several transactions,” Hill said. “It was conduct that was repeated.”
Vincent’s campaign accountant, David Gould, acknowledged last month that the expenditures violated the prohibition against using campaign donations for personal expenses.
Vincent filed a campaign statement last month indicating that he had reimbursed his campaign fund for some of the expenditures and planned to repay the others.
30 Days to Respond
Vincent will have 30 days to respond to the charges in the civil complaint, officials said. He can either admit the charges and pay the fines or deny the allegations and seek a trial.
The mayor’s attorney, Carl Douglas, said Vincent has not yet decided how he will respond because he hopes to negotiate a settlement with the attorney general’s office before the 30 days has passed.
Such a settlement would probably involve at least partial payment of the fines, Douglas said. “It has always been the mayor’s hope to resolve this matter and repay any unfair renumeration,” he said.
The complaint alleges that Vincent unlawfully spent about $2,900 in campaign money on city-related trips to Morro Bay, Calif.; Philadelphia; Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.
Records show that the mayor paid for those trips with campaign funds and submitted the receipts to the city. By obtaining reimbursement from the city for trips paid for with campaign funds, Vincent was in effect converting campaign money to his personal use, investigators said.
Other alleged personal use of campaign money includes $1,078 for repair of his pickup truck, $374 on clothes, $128 on a veterinarian’s bill and $509 in miscellaneous expenses.
The state Election Code defines personal use of campaign funds as creating “a substantial personal benefit” and lacking “more than a negligible political, legislative or governmental purpose.”