Rising Star in Politics Plunges in Alhambra


Some local boosters figured he’d be governor someday.

Stephen R. Perry was the youngest person ever to serve on the Alhambra school board, a police officer, president of the union and, it seemed, a member of every volunteer committee under the sun. He chaperoned field trips and championed school safety. His efforts to add lights to the football field at San Gabriel High School were about to pay off with the school’s first-ever home game.

But the admirers who watched Perry’s arc as one of Alhambra’s brightest young stars are having to accept his newest designation: convicted felon.

Perry, 33, was sentenced Wednesday to three years’ probation after pleading guilty to stealing $31,000 from the local police officers association while he was president in 1992 and 1993. On Tuesday, Perry quit the Alhambra police force and later tearfully announced at a school board meeting that he was resigning his seat after eight years on the board.


The school district’s top vote-getter in 1992, Perry was unopposed this year for a four-year term and, some observers said, was destined for higher office.

“We all had the belief that someday he’d be governor. And he’d be a good governor,” said fellow school board member Phyllis J. Rutherford. “There’s very few young people I know of at that age that would tie their lives up for the community.”

Perry’s fall has shaken the growing bedroom community of 82,000--a city unaccustomed to public scandal and one where a local boy with the time and desire to volunteer can soon become a mover and shaker without benefit of family prominence. Perry, who grew up in Alhambra and had been a police officer there since he was 21, was that local boy. A student scholarship at San Gabriel High, where he graduated, was named in his honor.

“He is a favorite son in a sense--a young guy involved in everything around town, a local businessman and a police officer,” said Llewellyn P. Chin, a city planning commissioner and former president of the Chinese American Education Assn. “We are just shocked.”

But during the same period that supporters say Perry was immersed in good works--from chatting up teenagers during his police rounds to corralling helpers for the city’s Rose Parade float--he was siphoning $31,000 from the Alhambra Police Officers Assn. to pay taxes on a flower shop he owns and for his personal use.

Perry had denied any wrongdoing, contending that the charges were politically motivated and later offering contradictory explanations for the withdrawals. He initially told investigators that he had loaned the money to several police officers for emergencies but later said it was used for officers’ drug rehabilitation, according to court testimony and records. Perry later said the money helped pay for a relative’s drug treatment.


Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Rosenthal said Perry used the money for himself and his business. At a court hearing last week, Perry conceded that he used $7,000 of association funds to pay taxes on the flower store he owns with a partner.

“Mr. Perry wasn’t willing to face the truth. He lied repeatedly before pleading guilty,” Rosenthal said Wednesday. “Sometimes when a defendant sees the proverbial whites of the jurors’ eyes, they tend to plead guilty.”

Perry said in an interview that he made a “bad judgment call” and pleaded guilty because his case had dragged on for so long. Perry said he withdrew the money with association approval as reimbursements for loans that he made to political candidates and police officers that the group was barred from making directly. He said some of the money paid for his brother’s stay in the Betty Ford Clinic, despite prosecution assertions that the money never went there.

The embezzlement case is not Perry’s first brush with trouble--he was fired by the department in 1994. The reason was never made public, but the firing came a week after state alcohol officials complained that Alhambra police officers tipped off the owners of a restaurant that was under investigation. The city’s Civil Service Commission reinstated him.

Critics groused that Perry was running unopposed this year even with criminal charges hanging over his head.

“What example does this set for the students? I am ashamed of the school board for supporting him,” said Elizabeth Mack, a 54-year-old community activist and former council candidate. “No one ran against him even though he was charged because he is a part of political machine that runs the city.”


Still, some backers refuse to believe that Perry intended to embezzle a cent, despite his admission.

“People who don’t know him will cast stones. He is a genuine person, and I don’t feel he has a malicious bone in his body,” said Barbara Messina, a council member who has known Perry since he was 8.

Perry’s downfall comes at what would have been one of his proudest moments as a public servant--the first varsity football game ever hosted by San Gabriel High. Perry was central to the effort to raise money for lights. Now friends worry he may not attend.

“I’m sure that makes it tougher on him,” said school Supt. Richard Keilhacker. “It’s a very sad set of circumstances.”

Perry said the event Friday has been weighing on his mind.

“I’ll tell you, it hurts,” he said, his voice catching. “A lot.”