This tiny city has generated an outsized number of corruption prosecutions in recent years.  A jury convicted Vernon’s former mayor, Leonis Malburg, of voter fraud in 2009, for falsely claiming he lived in Vernon when he actually lived in a Hancock Park estate.

In 2010 Bruce Malkenhorst Senior, the former City Administrator was indicted on charges of spending $60K in city funds on golf trips, massages, meals and political contributions. He pleaded guilty in May 2011 to charges of using public money for golf outings, massages and meals.  Under the plea agreement, Malkenhorst received three years probation, $35K in fines and penalties, and had to pay back the city $60K in restitution.

The prosecution of this case was delayed for a time while the California Supreme Court addressed in an unrelated case the issue of what mental state was required to prove misappropriation of public funds under Penal Code § 424, which outlaws certain appropriations made “without authority of law.”   In  Stark v. Superior Court, 52 Cal. 4th 368, 380, 257 P.3d 41, 47 (2011),  The Court held that even though § 424 was a general intent crime, the statute required the People to prove that the defendant knew generally that a nonpenal law required or prohibited the conduct.

In July 2011, Donal O’Callaghan, Vernon’s highly-compensated city administrator until mid-2010, pleaded guilty to felony conflict-of-interest charges for hiring his wife as a city contractor for the Vernon Light and Power Department.  O’Callaghan received 200 hours of community service and a year of summary probation.

O’Callaghan sued Vernon for 15 months pay after he was forced out of his position in the wake of the indictment.  The City paid him $500,000 to settle the lawsuit – despite the fact that its contract with O’Callaghan allowed it to fire him with cause if he was convicted of a “felony involving moral turpitude.”

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