Two former Lynwood City Council members who were convicted of misappropriating public funds by illegally boosting their salaries were sentenced Friday to state prison.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Eleanor Hunter sentenced Louis Byrd, 80, to five years and Fernando Pedroza, 47, to four years. Byrd had faced a maximum sentence of six years, and Pedroza faced five.
The former council members were convicted in July after a monthlong trial during which prosecutors argued that they broke the law by accepting tens of thousands of dollars in stipends for sitting on city commissions that appeared to do little, if any, work. In some cases, the council members collected as much as $450 per minute for commission meetings.
The allegations regarding illegal salaries broke new legal ground and were similar to those that the district attorney's office has brought against former Bell council members in a case awaiting trial. Pedroza and Byrd were also accused of misusing city credit cards, charging the city for lavish travel expenses and accepting stipends for attending events unrelated to city business.
Among other expenses, the city footed the bill for a $1,500 night out at a Guadalajara strip club, where dancers allegedly performed sexual favors for Pedroza and a city manager. Pedroza denied the allegations.
Prosecutors argued that Byrd misappropriated about $330,000 in total and Pedroza more than $160,000.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Miller said that to his knowledge, the sentences were the longest of any comparable corruption case. Misappropriation of public funds is exempt from "realignment," which shifted some criminals from state prison to county jails, so the defendants will serve their sentences in prison.
"This was a severe and appropriate sentence for the monumental betrayal of the public trust carried out by the defendants," Miller said.
The sentencing took place after a lengthy hearing in which attorneys and family members of both defendants begged for leniency, citing the contributions the men had made to the community and Byrd's advanced age.
Prosecutors characterized the men as unremorseful.
Pedroza's attorney, Albert Robles, said his client had apologized to the Lynwood community for putting them through the ordeal surrounding his case, but he said that when the judge asked Pedroza if he was sorry for what he had done, he said, "No, I did nothing wrong."
The defense attorneys, who have announced plans to appeal the case, argued at trial that Byrd and Pedroza had relied for legal advice on city attorneys and city managers who never alerted them that the commission stipends and other payments might be illegal, and, in the case of Pedroza, that the commission salaries and other payment schemes had been in place before he was in office.
Byrd's lawyer, Tomas Requejo, said of the sentence, "I think it's neither fair nor just. I think it totally ignores the historical value that Mr. Byrd has brought to the city of Lynwood."
Robles said community service would have been a better sentence than housing the men in prison at the taxpayers' expense.
"Have them be a constructive resource for the community — don't have them be a drain on the public," he said.
The men were charged in 2007 after a four-year investigation, along with three other former council members. Charges against two, Armando Rea and Ricardo Sanchez, were dismissed when a judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired in their cases.
Another former councilman, Arturo Reyes, pleaded guilty to grand theft and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12.