Ex-Gardena City Manager Faces Charge
Former Gardena City Manager Ken Landau pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he embezzled more than $100,000 in public funds, a spokeswoman for the office said.
Landau, who was placed on administrative leave in October and fired for breach of contract in February, was arrested by investigators from the district attorney’s office at his home in Rolling Hills Estates on Friday.
The arrest followed a week of testimony before a grand jury in which several top city administrators and elected officials were summoned.
Landau, 42, pleaded not guilty to 12 felony counts alleging that he paid a private investigator about $61,300 to investigate city officials and that he accepted more than $50,000 in reimbursements for travel expenses unrelated to city businesses, said district attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. He could face a maximum sentence of eight years and two months in state prison.
Nicolas Estrada, Landau’s attorney, said he could not comment on the case because he had not yet read the indictment. He said Landau, who has been in custody at the Los Angeles County Jail since he was arrested, was scheduled to be released on $225,000 bail Monday.
City officials said they had mixed emotions about Landau’s arrest.
“I’m sad for him and the city,” said Mayor Don Dear. “On the other hand, he had the public’s trust and he violated that and needs to accept the appropriate punishment. . . . This is the single worst thing that has happened to the city.”
In December 1995, the district attorney’s office launched an investigation of Landau at Dear’s urging. The mayor had discovered that Landau had spent $61,300 to hire a private detective who Dear believed was investigating city officials, including City Treasurer Lorenzo Ybarra, who Dear said clashed with Landau over city finances.
Landau, who was appointed city manager in 1985, later said in a memo that the detective was hired to do background checks on a number of people applying for positions such as city attorney and finance director, and for jobs with the police and fire departments.
As the investigation progressed, it expanded to alleged irregularities in Landau’s travel expenses that reportedly included first-class airline tickets, limousine service, reservations at four-star hotels and about 100 calls to escort services. Landau has contended that the expenses were approved by the City Council.
Councilman Steve Bradford, who said he initially raised questions about Landau’s inflated travel budget, said it was too bad that no one took issue with the financial discrepancies sooner. Gardena is facing a $7-million deficit and is considering layoffs and pay cuts.
“Some of these issues came to light in 1992,” Bradford said. “If people had been more responsive to these issues, I think the city of Gardena and would have been in a better position financially, and Mr. Landau would not be in the same position he’s finding himself in.”