A judge on Friday rejected a plea deal reached between prosecutors and a former Glendale councilman accused of embezzling at least $304,000, calling the agreement a “slap on the wrist” for someone in a position of public trust.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus said former Councilman John Drayman should go to jail if he’s found guilty of the embezzlement, perjury and tax fraud charges, rejecting a deal that would have exchanged a guilty plea for community service and restitution.
Drayman is now scheduled to begin his criminal trial in November.
Glendale police, Los Angeles County prosecutors and an IRS expert have said the total amount taken from the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. between 2004 and 2011 may have been more than $900,000.
“I cannot give him a no-jail sentence,” Marcus said at a pretrial hearing, noting Drayman allegedly committed at least some of the crimes as a public official.
“He has a position of trust,” Marcus said.
Drayman — who served on the Glendale City Council between 2007 and 2011 — declined to comment after the hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Drayman’s promise to admit guilt in the proposed plea deal was a stark change from his previous declaration of innocence. At one point, one of his attorneys had said he could prove someone else stole the money.
Deputy District Atty. Susan Schwartz said Drayman had agreed to the plea deal earlier in the week. In it, she said, he promised to plead guilty to three felony counts of embezzlement, perjury and tax fraud in exchange for 300 hours of community service, a lifetime ban from public office and $304,000 in restitution to the Montrose business group.
He also planned to pay at least $35,000 to the California Franchise Tax Board.
“He was prepared, as were we,” Schwartz said.
In May 2012, Drayman was indicted for fraud, forgery and money laundering, and for filing false tax statements after a nearly yearlong police investigation that began after board members of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. reported their embezzlement suspicions to police.
Proceeds of the local farmers market benefit the shopping area along Honolulu Avenue, which the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. promotes. But for years, the shopping park was losing money on the market. That changed when Drayman’s departure ushered in a period of skyrocketing revenues.
Drayman, who helped establish the market, collected fees from vendors and counted the cash before turning it over to the board. At one point, organizers said he hadn’t handed over money for nearly a year.
In a letter sent to the court, shopping park officials asked that he not go to trial to avoid negative publicity for Montrose.
“Although time in prison is well deserved, it does not appear to be prudent,” the letter stated, which Marcus read in court.
However, Ken Grayson, president of the association, said during a phone interview Friday that he believed the judge made the right decision.
“If he had gotten the other [deal], it would be a complete embarrassment for the city of Glendale,” he said.
Councilwoman Laura Friedman, who sat on the dais when Drayman was in office, said she was saddened by the news and community members are looking for closure.
“It’s all very sad. It’s all very disappointing,” she said. “He will have his day in court.”