L.A.-Africa Panel Really Owes St. John Money, Lawyer Says : Courts: Accountant's report shows that trade task force is in debt to his client for more than $6,000 in salary and other expenses, attorney argues.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Juanita St. John's attorney said Tuesday that a city-funded Los Angeles-Africa trade task force she is charged with bilking actually owes her more than $6,000.

In the fullest public accounting yet by St. John of how she spent task force money, attorney Victor Sherman presented in court an accountant's report concluding that St. John was entitled to the approximately $178,000 she is charged with stealing from the task force.

The report, introduced at a preliminary hearing, indicates that $110,000 of the money was compensation due St. John as part of an annual salary of about $75,000. Another $29,300 was repayment of a loan by St. John's husband to the task force and the remainder was reimbursement for her expenses over several years, including trips to Washington, mileage, credit card payments and office expenses, the report said.

The prosecution produced records Tuesday indicating that the large withdrawals St. John made from task force accounts over the years went to pay personal debts, including loan payments of up to $39,000 on her San Marino home.

St. John, a friend and former business partner of Mayor Tom Bradley, is charged with grand theft and filing false tax returns in connection with her activities on behalf of the Task Force for Africa/Los Angeles Relations. The hearing before Municipal Court Judge David Doi is to determine if she should stand trial on the charges, which carry a possible prison term of seven years.

Sherman said St. John's new accounting report shows the task force owes her $6,474.

The report, which was challenged by the prosecution, included some documentation in support of the expenses, as well as copies of checks for nearly $30,000 that St. John's husband wrote to the task force in 1981 and 1982, when it was struggling for funds. The accountant who prepared the report, Lionel Sanders, said he has additional receipts to back up the report.

Witnesses have testified that St. John probably used some of her own money to subsidize the task force in the early years.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Licker said outside the courtroom that there is no evidence St. John was entitled to draw the salary she claims. He also noted it took St. John more than a year after a city subpoena was issued to produce her explanation of where the task force money went.

"If they had this (documentation), you'd think it would have been presented in the first place," he said.

District attorney investigative auditor Hassan Attalla said that, in his opinion, St. John's accounting of the funds lacked supporting evidence. But he acknowledged under questioning by Sherman that he had not sought clarification of St. John's accounting.

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