LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Four current and former Irwindale city officials pleaded not guilty on Thursday to felony charges alleging they misappropriated public funds during trips to New York.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra ordered City Councilman Mark Breceda, 50, retired City Manager Steve Blancarte, 56, former Councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez, 49, and former Finance Director Abe De Diosto, 65, to return to court May 9 for a preliminary hearing.
The four — who were charged last October — were allowed to remain free on their own recognizance pending that hearing, which will determine if there is enough evidence to order them to stand trial.
KNX 1070′s Pete Demetriou reports that trial could possibly come as early as this fall.
Breceda, Blancarte and De Dios are charged with five counts of misappropriation of public funds between June 2001 and August 2005, while Ramirez is charged with a single count of misappropriation of public funds in 2002.
Prosecutor allege the officials attended Broadway shows — including ì”Aida,” “The Producers,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Mamma Mia” — and Yankees and Mets baseball games that had nothing to do with city business during trips to New York to get a better bond rating for the city.
Deputy District Attorney Nipa Cook said after a previous hearing that though the case did not involve “millions of dollars” — the alleged loss is estimated at about $14,000 — there has to be a public purpose when it comes to public funds being expended.
“I don’t think the dollar amount tells the whole story,” the prosecutor told reporters.
The District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division launched an investigation after receiving a letter, with an October 2007 article published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune attached, about trips taken to New York City by the Irwindale City Council.
Robert Griego, who was then Irwindale’s city manager, alleged that City Council members, Blancarte and De Dios were “involved in arranging expensive and unnecessary trips to New York City” and that public funds were being used for activities that were not related to the city.
Griego supplied the District Attorney’s Office with documents that showed who attended the trips and gave detailed expenditures of the trips, according to the criminal complaint.
(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)