John Drayman: Testimony reveals two perceptions of 'Mr. Montrose'

The first time Alyce Russell thought she'd been duped by her longtime friend John Drayman was at the former councilman's reelection-night party last April.

At the time, Russell was president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., which runs the Montrose Harvest Market. Drayman was in charge of counting proceeds from the market, but by election day, he was nearly 11 months behind on turning the money in, according to recently unsealed grand jury testimony.

Russell and other shopping park officials knew Drayman was busy with campaigning, so they let the tardiness slide. But about a week before voting day, the association's executive director told Russell something had to be done.

As the votes came in, Russell chatted with Larry Machtolf, who owns a local auto-repair shop, about the bad economy. Machtolf said some customers wanted to barter to pay bills, but Drayman had bought a classic Ford Fairlane from him for $1,500 in cash — all small bills.

“It made me feel sick,” Russell told the grand jury, which indicted Drayman earlier this month on 28 counts of embezzlement, fraud and filing false tax returns on charges that he stole at least $304,900. “It concerned me that that could possibly be monies from the Montrose market.”

Hundreds of pages of grand jury testimony released last week reveal two perceptions of Drayman: those who think the so-called Mr. Montrose could do no wrong, and those shocked and angered by the allegations.

As the revolving door of witnesses turned for the grand jury, some, like Robert Thompson, went so far as to say they trusted Drayman with their lives.

“It's not the same with John not there,” Thompson's wife, Sharon, told the jury. “I wish we had our man back.”

The couple later put up $6,000 of the $16,000 Drayman would need to be released from jail.

Market organizers and authorities have reported that after Drayman was removed from his money-handling duties, income from the event skyrocketed nearly 300%.

“I don't think he would ever do anything, steal anything,” testified Dee Ovenden, who runs the annual Montrose Arts & Crafts Festival.

But others had different opinions of Drayman: shock, disbelief and anger.

In a phone interview earlier this week, Drayman's attorney, Michael Kraut, said he provided the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney in charge of presenting the case with a lengthy list of exculpatory witnesses, but not all of them were called to testify.

Witnesses described Drayman as an upright citizen who volunteered his time to make Montrose better, but there were moments when his anger got the best of him.

Former City Manager Jim Starbird testified that Drayman was “a very difficult person to say no to.”

“It was not a comfortable position to be in, to disagree with John,” Starbird told the grand jury.

Montrose Shopping Park board members testified that they no longer considered Drayman a friend and that they hadn't spoken to him in a year.

“This is John Drayman, a man who did a lot for Montrose, a man who had a lot of loyal friends, friends who stood up for him … because he was Mr. Montrose,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Schwartz told the grand jury.

Shopping park officials trusted him implicitly, Schwartz added, until “they could no longer ignore the truth.”

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