LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California jury on Friday convicted former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley on 13-year-old charges that he took public funds to pay for personal expenses including pay-per-view movies, golf clothing, green fees, golf balls, cigars, and hotel rooms.
Bradley appeared in the courtroom in downtown LA wearing a charcoal gray suit. In the tense few moments before the jury delivered the verdict Bradley kept his head bowed low, gently nodded to himself and swayed his head from side to side. After the court clerk had read out the verdict, he leaned back in his chair, sighed and shook his head in his disbelief.
County prosecutors filed two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds for a second time, after Bradley won an appeals court reversal in 2012. During a 2 1/2-week retrial Deputy District Attorney Ana Lopez said that between 1999 and 2001, Bradley had double billed the city for personal expenses using a city credit card and cash advances for travel.
Lopez said Bradley played at exclusive golf clubs with entertainment attorney and city spokesman Frank Wheaton and said that it strained credulity that the golf games were part of city business. She also cast doubt on Bradley’s claim that he bought golf clothing at these meetings because he lacked the appropriate attire.
Many of the receipts shown to jurors during the trial were for nominal charges. One included a $15 charge for a Slazenger golf hat at the California Country Club in Whittier, California, and $288 for shorts, a shirt, and green fees at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego.
Lopez said during her closing arguments that the dollar amount did not matter as much as the state’s claim that Bradley had used public money that did not benefit the city of Compton.
“Superficially it may seem that it’s a small amount. But the principal looms large,” Lopez said. “A public official is not royalty,” and there are no “kings or queens of Compton,” she added.
The 59-year-old Bradley appeared on the stand for two days of testimony this week to profess his innocence. He said he never used taxpayer funds for personal expenses and that only convicted city manager John Johnson had the power to approve or not approve charges under $5,000.
“If anything cost more than $5,000 it had to come to the public,” Bradley said on the stand Monday. “We had no independent spending authority.”
Bradley said he had played golf with officials to discuss several city projects, including efforts to improve lighting in the city’s streets to reduce crime, plans to turn a disused National Guard armory into a boxing gym, and the creation of a sports and entertainment complex called Oasis.
At other times, Bradley justified spending public money for taxi cabs during a visit to Washington for a conference with the Black Congressional Caucus and winter clothing and cabs he had paid for as he prepared for a keynote speech at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He said a hurricane had hit Washington during the 1999 visit, and that he was unprepared for the cold weather when he landed in Massachusetts.
Bradley had only paid for several pay-per-view movies with his city credit card to help him unwind as he worked on city business, he testified.
His attorney Robert Hill called his client’s justifications “objectively reasonable.” He urged jurors during his closing argument Wednesday to “restore his good name” and rule that Bradley had not knowingly broken the law or was guilty of criminal negligence.
“There is a line. But these aren’t close to the line,” Hill said of Bradley’s purchases. “They weren’t Burger King but they weren’t the fanciest of things. We’re talking about golf balls.”
Both the prosecution and defense rested on Tuesday. Jurors began deliberations on Thursday morning after a full day of closing arguments. They informed the court they had reached a verdict at the end of the day, but it was delivered to the court a little after 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
The former official was convicted of misappropriation and misuse of public funds in 2004. Eight years later, a California appeals court overturned his conviction after the California Supreme Court found prosecutors have to make clear that defendants know they are breaking the law in cases related to the theft of public funds. Councilman Amen Rahh and Johnson were also convicted for charging personal items on city-issued credit cards.
Hill said in May that Bradley had already served the entirety of his sentence before the appeals court’s reversal but might serve a “tiny bit of time” if he was convicted. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli did not remand him into custody instead ordering him to return to court on August 30 for sentencing. He faces a lifetime ban from holding public office.
Bradley left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. Lopez declined to comment.
A woman who attended the hearing to support Bradley wept in the gallery after the verdict.
“He’s a good person. He’s a good man,” she said as Bradley beckoned her over.
Hill said in phone interview that Bradley would appeal. He noted that Bradley had run twice for mayor with the charges still hanging over him.
“But for the pendency of these charges, he might have won again. Because of this conviction, and if it stands, he will be barred from holding office and that will have the effect of disenfranchising the choice of many voters in Compton,” Hill said in a phone interview.
A mainstay of the Compton political scene since the early 1990s, Bradley served as the city’s mayor for two terms between 1993 to 2001. Prosecutors decided to retry him as he ran for office in 2013.
Bradley took on Compton Mayor Aja Brown in the June 6, 2017, general election in which the incumbent prevailed.
One of the oldest cities in Los Angeles County, Compton today is a mostly working-class city with some middle-class neighborhoods. It boasts a young population with residents averaging 25 years of age, compared to the national median of 35.
After the 1965 Watts riots, crime in Compton gained notoriety in the 1980s, when rap group N.W.A. documented the state of the city in its debut record “Straight Outta Compton.” Crime has since stabilized, spurred in large part by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s “Gifts for Guns” program that paid residents to turn in their firearms.
An economic research firm recently dubbed Compton as an “entrepreneurial hot spot,” and it ranks as LA County’s second-best city to start and grow a business.