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Bradley Testifies He Knew Nothing of St. John Salary

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mayor Tom Bradley, taking the witness stand in the felony embezzlement trial of a longtime associate, testified Thursday that he never reviewed the finances of her city-funded African task force, which he helped establish.

Appearing as a defense witness in Los Angeles Superior Court, Bradley said he did not know how much Juanita St. John was paid when she was executive director of the city-funded Task Force for Africa/Los Angeles Relations, a pet project of the mayor’s.

Her salary is a key issue because St. John, a San Marino resident, maintains that most of the $178,000 she is accused of stealing from the nonprofit task force was actually pay she was entitled to authorize for herself. The prosecution contends her annual salary between 1985 and 1989 ranged from $46,000 to $52,000, and that all of it was paid by city funds funneled through UCLA, where the task force was based.

St. John maintains she received $75,000 a year, with the difference coming directly from task force accounts.

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Bradley said he never examined the finances of the task force, which was set up to promote stronger business and cultural ties between Los Angeles and Africa. “I had no reason to,” he testified.

The mayor said he recalled once hearing someone mention that the head of the agency would be paid $75,000. “This was in the early stages of the formation of the task force,” he testified.

After the mayor’s testimony, both sides said he had helped their case.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Licker said Bradley corroborated other witnesses when he said it was up to the Board of Directors, and not St. John herself, to set the executive director’s salary. “Our position is she was making what she was getting from UCLA and was not authorized to take the (extra task force) money,” the prosecutor said.

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But defense attorney Victor Sherman said the mayor’s testimony demonstrated that the task force was run informally by consensus and without strict bookkeeping procedures.

During his hour and 40 minutes on the stand, Bradley avoided looking at the red-haired 59-year-old defendant, whom he has known for nearly two decades. Although called as a character witness, the mayor did not volunteer any opinions about her. He answered questions from Sherman in monosyllables, as in the following exchange:

Question: Over a 20-year period have you been aware of her (St. John’s) reputation within the community for truth and honesty?

Answer: Yes.

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Q: . . . What is that reputation?

A: Good.

Q: Truthful?

A: Yes.

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Q: Honest?

A: Yes.

But Sherman said outside the courtroom he expected no more from the cautious, circumspect mayor. “You know how he is,” the attorney told reporters.

Sherman said Bradley believes St. John “did nothing wrong.” But outside the courtroom, the mayor said “it’s up to the jury” to decide if she should be acquitted.

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Under cross-examination, Bradley acknowledged close ties to St. John. Her daughter, Kathy Mendenhall, works in his office, while Bradley’s daughter, Phyllis, once worked for St. John.

St. John and her husband, John, contributed to the mayor’s various political campaigns and also staged fund-raisers for him.

In 1981, Bradley joined St. John and eight others in a Riverside real estate partnership. But the mayor said he did not know that St. John had used task force funds to pay him dividends from this venture, as the district attorney has alleged.

Prosecutors have also accused St. John of commingling task force money with personal funds, keeping three separate bank accounts for the task force, and writing checks to herself from these accounts.

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The mayor said he had no knowledge of such activities.

The Africa task force controversy erupted in 1989 at a time when Bradley’s financial dealings and personal ethics came under intense scrutiny. The group has since been stripped of its city funding.


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