LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley told a prosecutor on Tuesday that he bought on-demand movies, a golf hat and shirt, green fees, balls and cigars for city business using a city credit card, and that he never paid for personal expenses with taxpayer money.
During more than two hours of cross-examination, Bradley acknowledged that he had paid for a movie at the Grand Hyatt in Washington during a trip for the Congressional Black Caucus in 1999 with a city credit card.
When Deputy District Attorney Ana Lopez asked him if he believed the movie was related to city business, Bradley said he watched movies to recharge after working into the early hours of the morning.
The former official said he did not consider it “forbidden” and had asked the city manager for permission to watch the movie and order a sandwich from room service while he worked. Lopez pressed him on whether a film was necessary and asked him, tongue-in-cheek, if he was using the TV as a lamp light.
“I watched the movie in the hope that it would keep me up,” Bradley said. “I would say it was an ancillary need, something that would keep me up. Keep me going.”
Lopez later focused on another pay-per-view purchase at a Huntington Beach hotel where Bradley was attending an event for the Lynwood Unified School District, where he was an assistant superintendent. He had ordered another two pay-per-view movies.
Bradley said that after his business with the school district he had gone for a drive to look at local housing developments to generate ideas for public housing in Compton. When he returned to the hotel, he played the movies in the background so that he could sketch some ideas.
“They helped me unwind and envision what it was I was trying to draw,” Bradley said.
Bradley was on the stand for a second day on charges that he misappropriated public funds after a California appeals court overturned his conviction in 2012. He says he is innocent and pleaded not guilty after prosecutors decided to retry him. Proceedings began this month in Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli’s courtroom in downtown LA.
Bradley testified Monday that he was aware of the limits on official spending and knew the city’s charter, municipal code, and resolutions on credit card spending. He said he had never used city money for personal expenses and that all his spending had been authorized by convicted city manager John Johnson, except for some golf clubs. In that case, Bradley said he had later reimbursed the city.
His public defender Robert Hill contends the claims that Bradley broke the law are false, and that the money at issue amounts to less than $5,000. Jurors have heard the City Council was only required to publicly disclose spending over that amount. Johnson had the power to authorize anything under $5,000, Bradley said Monday.
But county prosecutors say Bradley is guilty of using taxpayers’ money for personal expenses during a period that began in 1999 and ended in 2001, and that he double-billed for expenses by using both a city credit card and cash advances for travel.
Lopez asked Bradley if he understood that if he paid for something on a city credit card while traveling that he could not keep a cash advance.
“In other words, you don’t get to double dip,” Lopez said.
Bradley says he would charge purchases to the city credit card or use his cash advance but that ultimately it was up to Johnson to approve the purchases, not the mayor.
“I always knew that at some point the city manager had the authority to approve or disapprove the charge,” Bradley said.
In addition to pay-per-view movies, Lopez cited several other credit card purchases that Bradley made at hotels and golf courses.
The purchases in 2000 included a $15 charge for a Slazenger golf hat at the California Country Club in Whittier, California, and a $172 for a golf game and cart at another golf course. The jurors also saw receipts for $288 Bradley had spent on shorts, a shirt, green fees at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, and another charge for a golf game, two cigars, divot tools and golf shoes at the Hidden Valley Golf Club in Norco, California.
Bradley recalled playing golf with his spokesman Frank Wheaton, and said the games were often “spur of the moment” and that Wheaton kept Bradley’s golf clubs and shoes in his car. He has testified that he bought clothing if he was not wearing appropriate attire to play golf and said that he conducted city business on courses to avoid interruptions from members of the public who might recognize him if he held meetings in Compton. City Hall was not a safe location to meet officials on the weekend because he had received death threats while in office, he said.
Lopez questioned whether the meetings were truly as impromptu as Bradley made out. A March 16, 2000, game at the California Country Club started at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., and Lopez was skeptical that Bradley always met Wheaton to discuss city business.
“The fact that you’re socializing with a longtime friend and enjoying a game of golf – does that have anything to do with it?” Lopez asked.
Bradley replied: “If you’re asking me to be a robot and just discuss business and not say, ‘How’s your mom? Are you a member of this church or that church?’ I can’t do that.”
The former mayor said Monday that he had played golf with officials to discuss several city projects, including his work to improve lighting in the city’s streets to reduce crime, turn a disused National Guard armory into a boxing gym, and create a sports and entertainment complex called Oasis.
Lopez asked Bradley if he would call the two cigars he bought for the detail of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies a “gift.” Bradley said he received death threats while in office and he had given the cigars to the officers as a “reward,” after they protected him during a five-hour event at Hidden Valley in August 2000.
Bradley told the Press-Telegram this year that he had served his three-year sentence in prison and a halfway house. Hill said in May that Bradley had already served the entirety of his sentence before the appeals court’s reversal.
If convicted, the former mayor faces a lifetime ban from holding public office.
He served from 1993 to 2001 and ran again unsuccessfully for mayor in 2013. Bradley won a postponement of his trial to this month as he took on incumbent Aja Brown in the June 6, 2017, general election for mayor. Brown won.
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.
Lopez was expected to continue her cross-examination of Bradley on Tuesday afternoon.