Charges filed against Palm­dale mayor

Con­sul­tants fun­neled nearly $500,000 to Jim Led­ford over eight years, pros­e­cu­tors say.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - richard.winton @la­times.com ben­jamin.oreskes@la­times.com

Palm­dale Mayor Jim Led­ford has been charged with il­le­gally re­ceiv­ing nearly $500,000 from lo­cal con­sul­tants and fail­ing to pub­licly dis­close the in­come on eco­nomic state­ments, pros­e­cu­tors said Wed­nes­day. Led­ford, 63, has been charged with con­spir­acy and con­flict of in­ter­est as well as three counts of per­jury, ac­cord­ing to the Los Angeles County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice. The two con­sul­tants — Kim­berly Anne Shaw, 61, of Yorba Linda and Su­san Miller, 68, of Las Ve­gas — each face charges of con­spir­acy, em­bez­zle­ment and mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of public funds.

Pros­e­cu­tors al­lege that as part of the scheme, Palm­dale paid Shaw mil­lions of dol­lars and then she — through a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion and another con­sul­tant — fun­neled money to the mayor.

From Aug. 1, 2009, to May 3, 2017, Led­ford re­ceived about $5,200 a month through a series of shell com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint. The mayor re­ceived more than $483,000 dur­ing that pe­riod, au­thor­i­ties say.

Shaw has been a con­sul­tant for the city of Palm­dale for the last 20 years and has run much of its devel­op­ment and aero­space op­er­a­tions.

Shaw and Miller op­er­ate the Aero In­sti­tute, which re­ceives more than $2 mil­lion an­nu­ally from NASA.

Miller also op­er­ated a Ne­vada com­pany known as Com­plex Culture Change Con­sult­ing and hired Led­ford in 2009. Over a four-year pe­riod, Aero In­sti­tute paid the con­sult­ing firm more than $13,000 every month, and in turn, Com­plex Con­sult­ing al­legedly paid Led­ford $5,200 a month, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments and records.

Pros­e­cu­tors al­lege Led­ford did not per­form any sub­stan­tive work for Aero In­sti­tute dur­ing his con­tract.

At the same time, Led­ford helped Shaw re­ceive a lu­cra­tive con­tract in­crease. In Jan­uary 2012, the Palm­dale City Coun­cil voted to boost Shaw’s con­sul­tant con­tract to an amount not to ex­ceed $3.9 mil­lion over seven years. Pros­e­cu­tors al­lege Led­ford failed to re­veal that he was in­di­rectly re­ceiv­ing in­come from Aero In­sti­tute.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Led­ford is accused of not re­port­ing the in­come he re­ceived from Aero In­sti­tute on eco­nomic dis­clo­sure state­ments.

Led­ford could face up to four years and eight months in state prison, and Shaw and Miller could get four years in prison if they are con­victed.

The long­time mayor ap­peared in court Wed­nes­day, and af­ter some wran­gling be­tween pros­e­cu­tors and his at­tor­ney, bail was set by L.A. County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Mark Hana­sono at $75,000.

Through his at­tor­ney, An­thony Falangetti, Led­ford de­layed en­ter­ing a plea. He will be ar­raigned July 26.

Af­ter the hear­ing, Falangetti said, “These right now are ac­cu­sa­tions” that have yet to be tested in a court of law.

He added that the pay­ments to Led­ford were com­pletely ap­pro­pri­ate, say­ing, Led­ford “got paid to do some work, and he de­clared who paid him.”

“The city is do­ing very well un­der his lead­er­ship,” the at­tor­ney said.

A district at­tor­ney’s spokesman said pros­e­cu­tors are ar­rang­ing the sur­ren­der of Miller and Shaw.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan in 2013, and the charges come a month af­ter mem­bers of the district at­tor­ney’s Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion-searched six lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the mayor’s of­fice at Palm­dale City Hall.

In the af­ter­math, lo­cal lead­ers called on the mayor to take a leave from City Hall.

Led­ford has served as the city’s mayor since 1992 and was a plan­ning com­mis­sioner and coun­cil­man be­fore that. In all, he has been in­volved in city gov­ern­ment for more than 30 years.

A 2013 de­po­si­tion of Led­ford over a voter rights law­suit ex­posed the fi­nan­cial ties.

In the 250-page de­po­si­tion, Led­ford was grilled by Lan­caster Mayor R. Rex Par­ris, a long­time ri­val who was serv­ing as an at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs. In the con­tentious, hours-long ex­change, Par­ris strays from the vot­ing rights case to re­peat­edly ask Led­ford about his in­come and the na­ture of a job he had taken with Com­plex Con­sult­ing. Led­ford’s at­tor­neys ob­jected to nearly every ques­tion Par­ris asked about the job and of­ten ad­vised the mayor not to re­spond.

Asked to sum­ma­rize his du­ties for Com­plex Con­sult­ing, Led­ford said he con­ducted ed­u­ca­tional re­search that in­cluded trips to Port­land, Ore., and Moun­tain View, Calif., where he vis­ited a NASA re­search cen­ter. But Led­ford of­ten strug­gled to de­scribe any work he did or re­ports he pro­duced, or pro­vide a time­line of hours he worked for the firm, ac­cord­ing to the de­po­si­tion.

“My job has been to re­search ed­u­ca­tional con­fer­ences,” Led­ford said.

Par­ris then asked Led­ford if he had writ­ten or dic­tated any re­search mem­o­ran­dums, or sub­mit­ted any emails to his em­ployer about the con­fer­ences he re­searched. The Palm­dale mayor an­swered “no” to each ques­tion, ac­cord­ing to the de­po­si­tion. Led­ford even­tu­ally said he typed a 20-page sum­mary of his ob­ser­va­tions dur­ing a trip to the NASA re­search cen­ter in Moun­tain View.

Last month, Miller said she spoke with of­fi­cials from the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice once, about four years ago. She de­clined to say what they dis­cussed. “It was priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion,” she said. “They told me to keep my mouth shut.”

She said she was “not at lib­erty” to dis­cuss the pur­pose of Com­plex Con­sult­ing or what Led­ford was paid to do and de­clined to an­swer ad­di­tional ques­tions.

“Don’t be sur­prised when I hang up on you,” said Miller, who moved to Las Ve­gas in 2014, be­fore end­ing a phone in­ter­view.

Par­ris on Wed­nes­day de­clared the charges the end of Led­ford’s reign over Palm­dale. “Peo­ple should work for the well-be­ing of the com­mu­nity, not them­selves,” the Lan­caster mayor said. “The area has suf­fered for 20 years.”

Myung J. Chun Los Angeles Times By Richard Winton and Ben­jamin Oreskes

MAYOR Jim Led­ford failed to dis­close in­come from a con­sult­ing firm, pros­e­cu­tors said.

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