Former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley on Tuesday took the witness stand to counter charges that he misspent public funds, saying that several of his questioned expenses were justified because they related to city business.
Bradley, dressed in a blue business suit and often smiling at jurors, said that office snafus, bad weather and hotel errors also led to many of the expenses that prosecutors allege constitute a misuse of taxpayer dollars.
Bradley said that former City Manager John Johnson, a co-defendant in the trial, authorized many of the expenditures, including admission to several parties during a political convention in Washington, D.C.
“I was instructed that if I spent it on city-related business it would be justifiable,” Bradley said.
Bradley’s testimony marked the first time he has offered explanations for the spending, and comes as the long-running trial moves into its third month. Prosecutors are expected to begin cross-examining Bradley today.
After weeks of testimony involving number-crunching and analysis of credit card statements, Bradley’s appearance perked up the proceedings, and could prove pivotal in the trial. Jurors, who have often appeared frustrated with the trial’s pace, scribbled notes during several portions of Bradley’s testimony.
Bradley is accused of charging $3,800 on his city-issued credit card for, among other things, golf rounds, in-room movies at hotels and airfare for family members. He is also accused of taking cash advances, then charging those expenses on his credit card. Bradley is on trial with four former and current city officials who face similar charges. They are Johnson, former council members Amen Rahh and Delores Zurita, and Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux. If convicted, they could face four-year prison terms.
Bradley, who was a councilman and mayor for nearly a decade, said he didn’t use $1,000 in cash advances for personal purposes at conferences in Nashville and Washington in 1999, as prosecutors allege. The money, Bradley said, went to transportation, meals with fellow politicians, including Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, and to attend political events. The gatherings were opportunities to learn from and influence lawmakers from cities that share Compton’s demographics, he said.
“You have to chase down events that are going to have minority elected officials in Congress,” he said.
Bradley said one of the larger questionable expenses, a $2,125 bill for a four-day stay in 2000 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, was a mistake. Bradley, who was attending a gambling and risk-taking conference, said he never checked into the hotel because it was too expensive. He said he didn’t know who used the room and billed the city.
“Someone went into that hotel room, and it looks like they had a good time,” he testified.
Bradley follows several other witnesses called by his defense attorney to explain questionable expenses, and to support that the expenditures were for business purposes.
Bradley’s wife, Robin, said she returned to the city more than $500 in cash advances that the mayor was given for conferences in Anaheim and Palm Springs. She said she gave the money to Bradley’s secretary at City Hall, but said she did not get receipts.
Addressing Bradley’s golf expenses, Oliver Patterson, a Compton commissioner, said he and the mayor discussed fundraising while playing at a Whittier golf course.
When asked by Deputy Dist. Atty. Kerry White why they had gone to Whittier to discuss Compton-related business, Patterson said it was “for our well-being,” and to “have a good time and enjoy ourselves.”
During his testimony, Bradley emphasized that all of his spending was in one way or another related to the welfare of Compton. He said he took several taxi rides in Nashville to view public buildings because he had hoped one day to build a new city hall.
“One way to solve a problem is to see how other folks are doing it,” Bradley said.
The person who triggered the investigation in 1999, Compton City Treasurer Douglas Sanders, was also called by Bradley’s attorney, Ben Pesta, in an apparent attempt to raise questions about his motive.
Sanders said he reported the alleged credit card abuse to investigators after he had been held “hostage” by Bradley and others in his City Hall office. Bradley testified that he had never held Sanders in his office against his will. No charge was ever filed.