Ex-Lynwood Mayor Faces Criminal Charges

Former Lynwood Mayor Paul Richards was arrested today on federal criminal charges that he repeatedly misused his position of public trust to cheat taxpayers and enrich himself, his family and friends.

The 48-year-old lawyer and longtime public official was charged with orchestrating the award of a series of lucrative city consulting contracts to a company he secretly owned, according to an indictment unsealed today.

The deals involved basic city services such as garbage pickup and bus transportation, as well as the renting of city land to a billboard company. The contracts were worth millions.

Richards, who ran a political machine in the city of 70,000 that extended into neighboring Compton, was arrested without incident at his home, federal agents said. Charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, mail fraud, money laundering and depriving the public of his honest services, he faces a possible 20 years in prison if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Shallman described the case against him as one of "old school political corruption. He turned the people's business into the Richards' family business."

Also charged in the case were:

.Richards' sister, Paula Cameo Harris, 55, of Altadena, who allegedly served as her brother's front in the company he controlled.

.Richards' friend, Bevan A. Thomas, 55, of Anaheim, who allegedly bribed Richards as Richards saw to it that Thomas got city contracts.

.Billboard lobbyist David N. Smith, who also is accused of bribing Richards to obtain a deal for his client, Regency Outdoor Advertising, to install billboards on city-owned land along the 105 Freeway.

Many of the business deals described in the 59-page indictment were first disclosed in a series of 2002 investigative reports in The Times.