Prosecutors charged a Los Angeles city councilman with 10 counts, including embezzlement and perjury, on Tuesday in the latest criminal case to upend the scandal-plagued governing board of the nation’s second-largest city.
Curren Price Jr faces five counts of embezzlement of government funds, three counts of perjury and two counts of conflict of interest, according to the Los Angeles county district attorney’s office.
Price was charged for having a financial interest in projects that he voted on as a council member, and having the city pay nearly $34,000 in medical benefits for his now wife while he was still married to another woman, the Los Angeles county district attorney, George Gascón, said in a statement.
Between 2019 and 2021, Price’s wife allegedly received payments totaling more than $150,000 from developers before Price voted to approve projects, according to Gascón’s statement. He also is accused of failing to list the money his wife received on government disclosure forms.
“This alleged conduct undermines the integrity of our government and erodes the public’s trust in our elected officials,” Gascón said.
Price called the charges “unwarranted”.
In a letter to the Los Angeles city council president, Paul Krekorian, Price said he was stepping down from committee assignments and leadership responsibilities “while I navigate through the judicial system to defend my name”.
“The last thing I want to do is be a distraction to the people’s business,” he wrote.
The council and city government have been shaken by a series of recent scandals.
In March, former Democratic city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas – a one-time legislator, county supervisor and a fixture in local politics for decades – was found guilty in federal court of seven felonies, including conspiracy, bribery and fraud.
Last year, a racism scandal that shook public trust in Los Angeles government triggered the resignations in October of then city council president Nury Martinez and a powerful labor leader, Ron Herrera.
After an FBI investigation, two other former city council members pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in recent years.
Former mayor Eric Garcetti, who left office in December, was shadowed by sexual harassment allegations against one of his former top aides.
To residents, the cumulative effect “makes the whole body politic of LA look rotten, look illegal”, said Jaime Regalado, former executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.
At a time when the city is struggling with an out-of-control homeless crisis, crime, and soaring housing and rent costs, “it makes everything harder,” Regalado said.
A criminal complaint said a consulting firm operated by Price’s wife received a series of payments from companies incorporated or co-owned by Thomas Safran & Associates, GTM Holdings/Works and GTM Holdings, before the councilman voted to approve funding for the companies’ projects.
Emails seeking comment from those entities were not immediately returned on Tuesday evening.
Price was first elected to the council in 2013 and currently serves as its president pro tempore. His district includes South Los Angeles and parts of the city’s downtown. His term is set to expire in 2026.
Price, who is Black, has successfully navigated changing demographics in his district – which has become increasingly Latino – and is known for being attentive to communities that are diverse.
The councilman had attended a city council meeting earlier on Tuesday.
Mayor Karen Bass’s office said in a statement that she had not seen the charges but was “saddened by this news”.
Price’s attorney, David Willingham, declined to comment, saying he had not seen a copy of the criminal complaint.
The charges were first reported on Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times.