COUNTYWIDE : Critic Dogs Sheriff's Trail Over Spending

A political activist who has taken Sheriff Brad Gates to task over his campaign expenditures vowed Thursday to challenge a decision clearing Gates of charges that he illegally spent donations to rent space for his reelection headquarters from himself.

Dissatisfied with local authorities, Shirley L. Grindle of Orange said she will ask the state attorney general's office to consider her allegations against Gates, which she presented to the district attorney in April.

On Wednesday, prosecutors rejected Grindle's charges that Gates had illegally leased office space at Ortega Equestrian Center, which he and his wife own in San Juan Capistrano under the name Otra Inc.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Wallace J. Wade, head of the district attorney's special operations unit, concluded that provisions of the state Political Reform Act do not mention rent arrangements involving corporations that candidates own. For the law to apply, Wade said, title to the property or business must be under the name of the candidate or a member of the candidate's family.

Grindle contends that a narrow interpretation of the law by the district attorney opens up the possibility that candidates can use their campaign funds to pay themselves rent simply by putting their property or businesses under a corporate name. As such, she said, a portion of the law to check abuses could be rendered useless.

"I disagree with their conclusion," Grindle said. "First of all, they don't deal with the fact that this is a closely held corporation by Brad Gates and his wife, as opposed to a real corporation where there are many shareholders. I don't believe Otra Inc. should be excluded from the law."

Grindle charged that the district attorney did not deal with the intent of the law, which is to prevent candidates and campaign committees from renting space on property in which they have an ownership interest.

"This is not dismissed as far as I am concerned. There are some other issues with respect to Brad Gates that are being looked into," Grindle said. "Someone should have been watching Brad Gates' use of campaign funds years ago. From now on, I'll be doing that."

Grindle, who has monitored the campaigns and votes of the County Board of Supervisors for years, also requested the state Fair Political Practices Commission to audit Gates' campaign expenditures for the last three years. Her request is still pending before the FPPC.

Although she supports retired Fullerton Police Capt. Don Bankhead for sheriff, Grindle has denied charges from Gates' supporters that her complaints are politically motivated.

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