West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran has set up a legal defense fund in the event the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office decides to file criminal charges against him for improper use of his city credit card.
The district attorney began an inquiry in March 2011 after information surfaced during the city council election campaign about possible misuse of city credit cards by City Hall employees. In late August, the district attorney then requested additional documents pertaining to Duran’s expenses as a city councilman. (Duran served as mayor from April 2011 to April 2012.)
Duran had charges for 128 meals from 2008 to 2010 totaling approximately $7,000, an average of about $55 a meal. He told West Hollywood Patch that those meals were with city commissioners, city advisory board members and residents, discussing city business at West Hollywood restaurants such as and , which are within a block of City Hall.
"I’m stunned they’re even considering filing meal-reimbursement charges," Duran said during a phone interview Tuesday, pointing out that meal reimbursement is common for city officials.
If charges are filed, Duran said, they would be based on the district attorney’s interpretation of a state law that went into effect with the passage of Assembly Bill 1234 in 2005, which requires governmental bodies to set policies for reimbursement of elected officials’ expenses for travel, meals and lodging. The law does not address spending by city employees.
“I don’t think this is a correct interpretation of AB1234,” said Duran who was elected to the City Council in 2001. “As the courts are figuring it all out, I’ll continue to serve the city.”
Duran has hired Torrance-based criminal defense attorney George Bird to represent him.
“John Duran is an honest, decent public servant who at all times conducted himself ethically and within the bounds of the law,” Bird told Patch. “It’s disappointing that his use of the city’s credit card to pay for meals while conducting city business with constituents, residents and those with business before the city is the basis for a test case. He doesn’t deserve to be the victim of a test case.”
When contacted Tuesday by Patch, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons would not comment on whether the inquiry could result in criminal charges being filed against Duran.
“We hope to be able to wrap this up in a timely fashion,” Gibbons said.
Duran set up the legal defense fund on March 13 following initial meetings with the district attorney’s office. Duran said there is no money in the fund at the moment, but he anticipated that the city would indemnify him if charges are brought. The documents for the fund are on file with the city.
Patch has not yet gotten official verification that the city would act to cover Duran's legal expenses.
When contacted for comment, the city's public information director, Helen Goss, provided the following statement to Patch from City Attorney Mike Jenkins:
“In response to a complaint filed in March 2011 during the campaign period of the City of West Hollywood’s municipal election, the Public Integrity Unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office initiated an inquiry into expense reimbursements for the conduct of City business by employees and members of the West Hollywood City Council. Specifically, the District Attorney requested expense reimbursements for the time period 2006 to the date of the inquiry letter in 2011. The City fully cooperated with the request. In the course of reviewing the documentation provided by the City, the District Attorney’s Office began to focus its attention on meal expenses incurred by Mayor John Duran in the course of performing his duties as a City Councilmember. We will review the District Attorney’s specific allegations and provide an appropriate response.”
the district attorney’s office would not reveal the name of the person who filed the complaint about the credit card expenses. That complaint was made after showing $13,000 of charges on the city’s credit cards in 2010, which five non-incumbent city council candidates promptly called into question.
Those charges—most of which were made by Councilman John Heilman’s deputy Fran Solomon and City Manager Paul Arevalo—included a dinner for six at that totaled $674 and one at that came to $308. Other charges included $2,040 for six Montblanc pens and $1,860 for gift cards purchased at .
The day before the election, the city released the following statement regarding those charges:
“The credit card expenditures for 2010 incurred by City employee, Fran Solomon, totaled less than $2,000 for the entire year. According to our records, these expenditures were for official City business meetings with various community stakeholders. Additional expenditures on the credit card were incurred by other staff persons in the furtherance of municipal business and there are no violations of any City policies in the use of the City’s official credit card. Additionally, no public funds have been expended for any private club membership and the pens and gift cards were in recognition of employee milestones.”
The district attorney initially requested a wide range of documents from City Hall, looking to determine if there were patterns of use for the credit cards which required further examination.
In late August, the district attorney requested additional documents related to expenditures made by Duran, Assistant City Manager Joan English, and then city-employee Kathryn Kreitzman.
UPDATE: West Hollywood resident Chris Bray has come forward saying he is the person who filed the complaint with the district attorney. He sent Weho Patch a copy of his letter of complaint.
However, when Patch checked with the district attorney's office, a spokesperson could not confirm that information. "Confidential means confidential to us," said spokesperson Sandi Gibbons.