St. John Negotiating Over Release of Financial Records

Times Staff Writer

Attorneys for the embattled head of a tax-supported Africa trade group were negotiating Wednesday over the possible release of subpoenaed financial documents that their client so far has refused to provide to city auditors.

"We're in the process of talking to them about releasing records," said Vicki Podberesky, an attorney for Juanita St. John, executive director of the Task Force for Africa/Los Angeles Relations. "All parties are working toward an agreement."

News of the negotiations came as a number of legal and administrative deadlines were closing in on St. John, whose group is under investigation by city and state agencies for possible misuse of funds.

City Controller Rick Tuttle is expected to release soon an audit of the task force's use of $400,000 in city funds over the last four years. His auditors and the city attorney's office have said that St. John has failed to account for $180,000 of the funds and that they have found evidence that task force and personal funds were mingled in St. John family checking accounts.

Neither Tuttle nor officials in the city attorney's office could be reached for comment on the negotiations.

Arraignment Sept. 15

Also, St. John is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 15 on criminal charges that she failed to produce records subpoenaed by the controller. And the state attorney general's office has given St. John until the end of the week to produce delinquent reports on how the nonprofit organization's money has been spent.

Podberesky declined to say who initiated the negotiations or how long they had been going on.

"If we cooperate," she said, "we would respond fully to the subpoena . . . we would give everything within Mrs. St. John's ability to produce."

Part of the negotiations involve determining what records the controller's office already has, Podberesky said, noting that auditors months ago were given access to some task force records.

Asked if she is confident that the records will account for the $180,000 in question, she said: "That's another matter. That's something that would have to be determined by the auditors. . . . We can only produce what we have."

St. John was not available for comment, but she has indicated in the past that she has not misused funds and that she will be able to show that the task force owes her money.

If an agreement is reached on the release of records, it could mean that the charges for failing to obey the subpoena would be dropped. The city attorney in charge of the case was not available.

Meanwhile, Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cordi said he will recommend that a civil suit be filed against St. John if state-mandated records are not filed by Friday afternoon.

Podberesky said she could not comment on the attorney general's investigation.

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