Court reverses Omar Bradley corruption conviction
LOS ANGELES—The Court of Appeal has reversed the conviction of former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley on corruption charges, declaring that he might not have known that what he was doing was wrong.
The opinion was based on the fact that the judge in the case failed to instruct the jury on a requirement that the defendant know the act committed was wrong.
In 2004, self-styled “gangster mayor” Bradley and two other city officials were tried and convicted for spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on personal items like golf, dental work and limo rides. Bradley was also was convicted of taking cash advances for city business expenses and then charging those items to his city credit cards and pocketing the money.
Division Eight of the appeals court, in the same opinion, affirmed the convictions of Bradley’s codefendants, former City Manager John Johnson II and former City Councilman Amen Rahh.
“As to them,” Justice Madeline Flier wrote, “instructional error was, beyond a reasonable doubt, harmless.”
The jury found City Council Members Delores Zurita and Yvonne Arceneaux not guilty of the same charges.
The county grand jury indicted the three and charges were brought on Feb. 27, 2003, by the newly established Public Integrity Division of the District Attorney’s Office.
The defendants were convicted by a jury on Feb. 10, 2004, on two counts each, of misappropriation of public funds and unauthorized loans of public money, in violation of Penal Code Sec. 424. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack W. Morgan remanded them to custody.
On May 14, 2004, Morgan sentenced the former mayor to three years in state prison. However, Bradley was able to ser ve time in a half- way house, leaving the facility five days a week to do community service work.
With 158 days of pres entence custody credit, Bradley was released in August 2005.
On Aug. 24, 2006, Division Eight, in an opinion by Flier, affirmed the convictions. The California Supreme Court on Sept. 14, 2011, transferred the case back to Div. Eight for reconsideration in light of the decision it had just handed down in St ark v. Superior Court.
In that case it was ru led that, “Strong public policy supp orts a rule requiring either actual knowledge or criminal negligence in failing to know the legal requirements underlying the section 424 charges.”
Flier said in her opinion that Bradley’s conviction must be reversed because an instruction had not been given on scienter. She wrote:
“In contrast to Johnson and Rahh, the error with respect to Bradley was not harmless beyond a reas onable doubt. Bradley presented evidence, which if credited by the trier of fact , negated his wrongful intent. Bradley testified he conferre d with Johnson regarding many of the expenses and received permission to use the funds for purposes other than the initially intended purpose.
“Even the prosecution agreed that for some of the exp enses Bradley had received authorization from Johnson, who was authorized to approve expenditures under $5,000. Additionally, County Investigative Auditor Jane Ngo acknowledged she could not deter mine if funds not used for their intended purpose were used for other city- related business — which was the crux of Bradley’s defense.
“Bradley’s ef fort to argue that he had authorization from Johnson and that he sp ent funds on other city- related business was undermine d by the prosecution’s argument, supp orted by the erroneous instructions, that appellants had to intend only the act that resulted in the misappropriation. Bradley’s testimony that he believed the golf games and hotel stays were properly charged to the city because he discussed city business during them also could not be evaluated by jurors absent the instruction on intent. The instructional error therefore was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as to Bradley.”