Compton Official Charged in $100,000 City Hall Theft : Burglary: Stolen computer equipment reported found in suspect's apartment after New Year's Day robbery.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A top administrator in the city of Compton was charged Friday in connection with the New Year's Day theft of more than $100,000 worth of office equipment from the city attorney's office.

Melvin C. Smith, the city's labor relations officer, allegedly helped arrange the burglary in which typewriters, word processors, calculators, telephones, cameras and a fax machine were carted out through unlocked City Hall doors.

Some stolen computer equipment was allegedly found in Smith's apartment.

The allegations were contained in an affidavit filed in support of the warrant Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigators used April 11 to search Smith's Paramount apartment.

Smith, 35, has been charged with receiving stolen property and with possessing equipment bearing scratched-off serial numbers. If convicted on both counts, which are misdemeanors, the 35-year-old public employee could spend 1 1/2 years in jail and pay $1,500 in fines.

Felony charges are not being filed against Smith at this time, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas A. Romeyn, because no witnesses to the crime have been found. However, the investigation is continuing, he said.

Smith is being given a chance to turn himself in voluntarily, Detective Armando Rea said Friday. If he does not turn himself in next week, Rea said, a warrant will be issued for his arrest. City officials put Smith on administrative leave from his $46,980-a-year job this week when they learned about the investigation, Rea said.

Smith, who could not be reached for comment, has worked for the city for eight years and became labor relations officer about a year ago. Before that he worked in the municipal water department and in the controller's office.

City Manager Howard Caldwell sent word through an assistant that he would not comment on the case nor answer questions about whether other city employees are being questioned in connection with the theft. However, one City Hall source said deputies have questioned at least one other employee.

Compton police received the initial crime report about the burglary, but it was the Sheriff's Department that received confidential information two weeks ago that led them to Smith.

The burglary took place shortly after midnight on New Year's Day, according to information in the search warrant affidavit that was read to The Times and confirmed independently by police sources. The affidavit itself has not been filed with the court for public viewing.

Smith, it was alleged, was the person who arranged the burglary and saw that the doors to City Hall and to the second floor city attorney's office would be left open.

Two or more burglars allegedly removed the equipment, loaded it into a vehicle and took it to E.S.P. Construction Co. on Compton Boulevard for temporary storage. The construction company, which Rea said is bankrupt, is owned by Smith and two other partners.

Smith and someone else allegedly later moved the equipment to a self-storage facility in Paramount. A search by deputies failed to turn up any equipment in the storage facility, but Rea said Smith did rent space there.

When deputies searched Smith's apartment, they found the computer equipment.

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