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Compton officials have been illegally inflating their pay, district attorney says

Compton officials have been illegally inflating their pay, district attorney says
Compton Mayor Aja Brown in 2014 outside the Compton Civic Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Compton's mayor and council members have been illegally boosting their salaries for years by paying themselves for commission meetings that sometimes lasted only about a minute, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

In some cases, officials were paid "whether or not the commission member attended the meeting," the prosecutor's office said in a July 17 letter to the Compton city attorney. The letter was obtained by The Times on Thursday.

Mayor Aja Brown was paid an additional $4,000 a month on top of her authorized salary of $600 a month and the four council members received $3,400 more a month, the district attorney said.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said Compton's mayor was paid $4,000 a year on top of her salary. She has been paid that amount monthly.

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Including their monthly council stipend, pay for sitting on four boards and commissions, and their auto allowance, Compton council members collect $55,800 annually, and the mayor pulls in $63,000. Additionally, some council members also receive $150 a month in a cellphone allowance.

The district attorney's letter is likely to evoke comparisons with the salary scandal in the city of Bell, although the amounts of money involved in Compton are much smaller. The practice of municipal officials' getting paid extra for briefly attending commission meetings, along with exorbitant salaries, was a central part of the successful criminal prosecution of four council members and two top-ranking Bell officials.

In the letter, the district attorney warned that Compton officials could be prosecuted if the high payments continue.

"There's no authority of law for the City of Compton to pay public officials money from the public coffers outside the parameters of the city charter," the letter said.

A 2010 investigation by The Times found the meetings of the highest-paying Compton commissions often lasted the shortest time. The stipends ranged from $300 for the Urban Community Development Commission to $1,000 a month for the Housing Development and Gaming commissions. Council members also earn $1,100 a month for sitting on the Public Finance Authority, and the mayor is paid $1,700.

At least 41 commission meetings lasted fewer than 10 minutes, the Times investigation found in 2010. The district attorney's letter revealed similar findings and said the Housing and Gaming commissions "serve no obvious purpose other than providing additional compensation to the commission members."

The salary-padding practice predates the tenures of Brown and at least some of the current members of the City Council. Former Mayor Eric Perrodin and some former council members benefitted from the practice, records show.

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School, said the D.A.'s letter raises question about the meetings' merit.

"It makes the advisory board meetings frankly sound like scam meetings," Levinson said. "The D.A.'s office is saying they don't pass the smell test."

Last month, Brown proposed a ballot measure to cap council members' compensation at the city's median household income ($42,953 in 2013). But the council rejected her proposal.

"There are some city leaders that are sadly vested in maintaining the status quo," Brown said in a statement.

Compton City Atty. Craig Cornwell said he plans to meet with the district attorney's office this month to discuss the situation.

A local blog, 2UrbanGirls, first reported on the district attorney's letter.

For more California breaking news, follow @AngelJennings. She can also be reached at angel.jennings@latimes.com.

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