A judge Tuesday dismissed embezzlement charges against Irwindale Mayor Mark Breceda, Councilman Manuel Garcia and former Councilwoman Rosemary Ramirez after the prosecution announced it was unable to proceed with the case.
“Due to a series of adverse rulings, the remaining charges could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Jane Robison with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.
The dismissal came about a year after a judge threw out the bulk of the charges against Breceda, 55, and Ramirez, 54.
In February 2015, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor agreed with the defense’s contention that the statute of limitations barred the prosecution from going forward with charges of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest against Breceda and Ramirez.
After the judge’s decision, Breceda — who had been charged in 15 counts — was left facing five counts of embezzlement by a public or private officer. Ramirez — who had been charged in six counts — was facing two counts of embezzlement by a public or private officer, along with a separate case charging her with dissuading a witness from testifying. That case was also dismissed at Tuesday’s hearing.
Irwindale City Councilman Manuel Garcia, 54, had been facing one count of embezzlement by a public or private officer. In October 2013, the prosecution had dismissed two other counts — misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest — against Garcia based on a statute of limitations issue.
“I’m happy with the outcome. Obviously it’s an unusual step and an unusual outcome,” Breceda’s attorney, Anthony Falangetti, said after the hearing. “He’s relieved, he’s happy with the result. He’s thankful that the D.A.’s Office did the right thing.”
Former city finance director Abraham De Dios — who was indicted along with the three — pleaded no contest in April 2014 to one count of conflict of interest. He was immediately sentenced to three years probation, ordered to pay about $5,300 in restitution to the city and more than $4,000 in fines, and to perform 100 hours of community service for Habitat for Humanity, which he had already done.
A judge dismissed embezzlement charges against them in August 2013 in light of a state appellate court panel’s decision. Hours later, the prosecution refiled the case and added more counts.
In the April 2013 ruling, the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the District Attorney’s Office withheld “exculpatory” evidence from the grand jury and that the defense was “substantially prejudiced by the failure of the prosecution to provide two significant documents” to the grand jury.
Defense attorneys had challenged the indictment, arguing that certain documents should have been provided to the grand jury.
“This evidence consists of two Irwindale documents, a 2002 resolution and a 2002 city manager memorandum, which appear to state a policy, or — at least — a practice that each Irwindale official is entitled to a daily $75 allotment while traveling on city business, even if that official’s meals were paid for by a third party,” Associate Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson wrote in the appellate court panel opinion.
The appellate justices noted in that 30-page ruling that two prosecutors who went before the grand jury in connection with the case were not aware of the documents, although the District Attorney’s Office was.
“The knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of the two deputies is of no moment,” the appellate panel found in the ruling vacating the embezzlement charges. “It is the duty of the office of the district attorney to gather all the information made available throughout the office and present that information to the grand jury. The grand jury, not the prosecutor, has the duty to sift through the evidence and weight it to come to a fully informed conclusion.”
In July 2013, the California Supreme Court refused to review the appellate court panel’s decision.
— City News Service