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Mayor Cleared of Credit Card Misuse : Port Hueneme: D.A.'s unit says Toni Young did nothing legally wrong when she charged clothing on city card. She later repaid the money.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It all started last October when Port Hueneme Mayor Toni Young, then a councilwoman, bought herself a pair of sneakers, socks and a jacket--for a total of $72.91--with a city-issued credit card.

Some city officials questioned the purchase, and someone leaked a memo about it to the press. Then the Ventura County district attorney’s office decided to investigate whether public funds had been misappropriated.

Three months later, the district attorney’s official misconduct unit has ended its probe, concluding there is no evidence to charge Young with defrauding Port Hueneme.

There is no question that Young paid for the clothes, purchased at J.C. Penney, with her city-issued BankAmericard while attending a League of California Cities seminar in Monterey, investigators say.

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“She told our investigator that she purchased the tennis shoes, socks and jacket because she was cold and her feet hurt,” wrote Deputy Dist. Atty. Rebecca Riley in a nine-page report.

But Young never tried to persuade the city that she had spent the money on anything other than clothes, and she opted not to collect a $99.90 travel reimbursement that she was entitled to from the city, according to the report.

“No false claim was ever made,” said Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. John L. Geb. “We had no evidence.”

Young later paid the city back for the clothes on the advice of Port Hueneme City Atty. Don Kircher. But she maintained throughout that she acted ethically and that the brouhaha over the clothes was politically motivated.

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Young did not return phone calls Monday, but friend Tom Brigham said she was eager to put the episode behind her.

“She was very relieved that the report was finally in,” Brigham said. “She felt all along that she had done nothing wrong.”

Before being elected mayor last November, Young had been at odds with City Manager Richard Velthoen and the four other, longtime council members.

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The feud heated up last summer when Young, then a first-term councilwoman, made public a memorandum in which Velthoen threatened her with “unpleasant consequences” if she continued to publicly discuss the possibility of his being fired.

Young’s clothing purchase was made public less than two weeks before the November elections.

Then-Councilman James Daniels told investigators that he discovered a BankAmericard bill addressed to Young in October on the floor beneath their mailboxes at City Hall.

Concerned by the J.C. Penney charge, he gave it to Velthoen to look into. Velthoen informed him a few weeks later that Young had submitted the bill for payment, according to the report.

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Velthoen then asked Police Chief John Hopkins to research the law to see if Young had committed fraud. Hopkins concluded that her actions lacked criminal intent and decided to recommend counseling to resolve the matter.

But before Hopkins had even received a formal memo from Velthoen, the affair was leaked to the press. Newspaper reporters contacted Young about the incident before city officials had informed her that they were looking into it, the report said.

“Since Ms. Young had not established a practice of such mistakes,” Riley wrote, “it seems reasonable that she should have been extended the courtesy of having the questioned charge brought to her attention.”

In addition to announcing there would be no attempt to prosecute Young, the report recommends that Port Hueneme, which has no policy regarding expense reports, adopt one. The city currently operates under a “Boy Scout honor system” where employees can charge meals and other expenses without receipts or other proof, the report says.

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Investigators stressed that they were looking only to see if Young had broken the law and they stopped once they realized they had no case.

Nevertheless, Geb said, “It did seem peculiar that the press did seem to have very specific information about this.” He added that the contention by Young that the investigation was politically motivated “was certainly interesting.”


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