Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent, hit this week by an attorney general’s lawsuit accusing him of illegally using more than $5,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, still faces a separate investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission that could result in additional allegations and requests for fines, officials said.
The attorney general’s suit seeks more than $10,000 in fines from Vincent for alleged double-billing of travel expenses and other illegal use of campaign money over two years. Among the allegations is that Vincent paid for $2,900 worth of travel with campaign money but also obtained reimbursements from the city.
The FPPC has confirmed that it is investigating the two-term mayor for allegedly failing to itemize and show the ultimate recipients of about $50,000 in campaign travel payments over five years. Vincent’s reports simply say that most of the money was paid to American Express or an Inglewood travel agency.
A state official who asked not to be identified said the mayor could face as much as $18,000 in additional fines for violations of Political Reform Act requirements on campaign reporting. Michael Sweet, the commission’s head of enforcement, declined to comment except to say that a heavy workload is delaying completion of the four-month-old investigation.
The mayor has declined to be interviewed since the attorney general’s suit was filed Monday, but his attorney, Carl Douglas, confirmed that he is negotiating with both the FPPC and the attorney general’s office. He declined to discuss possible fines.
“It is our hope that we can resolve these matters concurrently,” Douglas said. He said he hopes to reach a settlement within days.
Vincent’s latest campaign statement indicated that he had repaid, or planned to repay, $5,000 to his campaign fund to cover the expenses targeted by the attorney general’s probe. But Vincent has not yet complied with requests by attorney general’s investigators in December to amend previous campaign statements and provide the details of his campaign spending.
In the five-year period, the mayor has raised as much as $160,000 per year, records show. For most of that period, Vincent was on unpaid leave from his job as a Los Angeles County probation officer and received an annual mayoral salary of about $10,800 plus expenses.
Vincent’s accountant, David Gould, said last month that he was preparing the amended statements but that Vincent’s records were incomplete. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
May Check Further
When the amended statements are filed, attorney general’s investigators say, they may compare city and campaign records to check for other instances of apparent double-billing.
On Monday, Vincent’s attorney, Douglas, repeated the defense offered by the mayor in the past: While Vincent may have double-billed trips to both the city and his campaign fund and paid for other personal expenses with campaign money, the offenses were inadvertent and resulted from inadequate accounting by the mayor’s former campaign consultant and Inglewood city officials.
“It’s important to note that there is no allegation of intentional wrongdoing,” Douglas said. “Any inaccuracies were inadvertent. All the facts are not yet known. When they are, we will show there was no willful intention.”
But investigators said that the violations do appear intentional and systematic and that this is why they filed the suit rather than just seeking repayment to the campaign fund. They said it is the first civil lawsuit ever filed against an elected official under a 1981 law barring personal use of campaign funds.
The suit reads in part: “Notwithstanding the unlawful use of campaign funds for personal use, Defendant Vincent actively concealed and misrepresented the true nature of his expenditures by not properly reporting such expenditures as required by law on his campaign disclosure statements.”
The complaint alleges that Vincent unlawfully spent about $2,900 in campaign money on travel to Morro Bay, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C. Records show that Vincent paid American Express bills for those trips with campaign money and also submitted American Express receipts to the city and received reimbursements, according to the lawsuit.
Other alleged personal use of campaign money includes $1,078 on repair of a pickup truck, $374 on clothes, $128 on a veterinarian’s bill and $509 in miscellaneous expenses.
The double-billing allegations raise twin possibilities: misuse of campaign funds, which is under the jurisdiction of the attorney general, and misuse of public funds, which is under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County district attorney.
As The Times has reported, some of Vincent’s city-paid travel does not appear to be in connection with any city business. For example, a three-day trip to New Orleans in 1987 was justified on reimbursement forms with Vincent’s claim that he met with mayoral aides there. But New Orleans officials said they have no record of such meetings.
But Assistant Atty. Gen. Eugene Hill said Monday that the focus of his probe is on campaign spending. He said any evidence of misuse of public funds that his agency uncovers will be turned over to the district attorney.
City officials have not questioned Vincent’s travel, saying city travel policy emphasizes disclosure and gives City Council members broad discretion over what travel constitutes city business.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, civic activist Terry Coleman called on Vincent to resign, saying: “Other political figures have paid the price and stepped down from their positions. Don’t hurt the city any longer.”
Garland Hardeman, a Vincent rival and City Council candidate whose lawsuit resulted in the annulment of a council election in 1987, said the attorney general’s action was the latest of several scandals in which Vincent has been involved.
“It’s a total embarrassment throughout the Southland,” Hardeman said.
The mayor, who at past council meetings has angrily denounced Hardeman and other critics, did not respond to those statements. He left the meeting without comment, and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.