POLITICAL CORRUPTION: Water Directors Ronald Smith, Robert Katherman, Wife, Charged in Complex Embezzlement Scheme

Robert Katherman.

Robert Katherman

By Randy Economy and Brian Hews

West Basin Municipal Water District Director Ronald Smith along with Water Replenishment Director Robert Katherman and his wife Marilyn have been charged in case what prosecutors are calling “an elaborate embezzlement scheme” that resulted in Smith making about $20,000 in personal expenses.
Eight felony counts were filed in the case.
Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper was the first media outlet in Southern California to report on the indictment, arrest and prosecution of the three well-known political figures.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey, through spokesperson Jane Robison, announced the case details and the specific allegations listed in the indictment in an email to HMG-CN on Tuesday morning.
The Katherman surrendered in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Torrance on Tuesday morning at 8:45 a.m. and appeared in Division 4 before Judge Sokolov. They were released without having to post a bond, but will be back in court on August 27.

Marilyn Katherman is pictured in the middle.  Facebook.

Marilyn Katherman is pictured on the left.  Facebook.

The couple appeared in court accompanied by famed powerhouse criminal defense attorney Mark Werksman who will be representing them.
Werksman told HMG-CN in an interview that the Katherman’s will be “cleared of all of these charges.”
“The Katherman’s are lifelong residents of the community, and they have family here and they are not going to anywhere in the future. They are not flight risks, they are good decent citizens, and will be found innocent of these charges,” Werksman said.
Werksman added that he believes that the Katherman’s “acted appropriately at all times,” and that he will be putting together a “solid defense” for the couple in the case.
Smith was taken into custody last week and is slated to be back in court on August 1 when he will have a preliminary hearing on his specific portion of the case.
“Smith is charged with seven felony counts, including two counts of misappropriation of public funds, four counts of perjury and one count of conflict of interest,” Robison told HMG-CN.
Prosecutors are claiming that the “embezzlement scheme occurred after Smith got the West Basin Municipal Water District board to make multiple contributions to help sponsor Adopt A Storm Drain Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation to promote water conservation run by the Kathermans.”
Werksman said the focal point of the case should be focused on Smith, not the Katherman’s. “This case is about Director Ron Smith, in my opinion,” Werksman wanted to stress to HMG-CN.
Still, prosecutors in the case say the Ronald Smith, Robert, and Martha Katherman “worked together” in the alleged scheme.

West Basin Municipal Water District Director Ron Smith.

West Basin Municipal Water District Director Ron Smith.

“The contributions occurred over a three-year period, beginning in August 2010. During the same period, Smith also contributed money from his district outreach fund that did not need board approval, prosecutors said,” the District Attorney’s office contend.

Shortly after receiving the West Basin donations, prosecutors allege the Kathermans began “writing checks from foundation accounts to schools and organizations that had no connection to the foundation.”

The DA contends that the checks allegedly covered school and college tuition and paid for tennis and dance lessons for Smith’s children. Adopt a Storm Drain checks also allegedly paid for repairs to Smith’s boat and his rent.

“Smith also allegedly wrote checks from his West Basin discretionary account to pay various school expenses for his children. In all, about $20,000 was stolen,” prosecutors say.

Last week, Smith was arrested and charged on seven felony counts including two counts of Penal Code section 424 (A), misuse of public funds and was charged with one count of violating Government Code section 1090 that prohibits a government official from having a financial interest in a contract entered into by his agency. Smith was also charged with four counts of violating Penal Code section 118. Robison said that the statute makes it a crime to file a false affidavit.

If convicted, Smith faces up to nine years in state prison and the Katherman is each face up to four years in state prison if convicted.

Smith has retained a public defender in the case and still remains locked up in a downtown Los Angeles jail cell as of Tuesday afternoon. Sources tells HMG-CN that Smith is having a “hard time” trying to post the $100,000 bond.
The political fallout against the Katherman’s began within minutes of their court appearance on Tuesday.
Katherman who is a key senior staff member with Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price where he was Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Economic Development tendered his resignation on Monday afternoon. Sources tell HMG-CN that Katherman and Price met at Los Angeles City Hall behind closed doors to talk about the case and it was agreed that it was “in the best interest” that the resignation strategy be crafted.
On Tuesday, just before noon, Price formally announced that Katherman was no longer employed with this office.

Political corruption continues in Southern California.

Political corruption continues in Southern California.

“Rob Katherman worked hard for this office over the last 13 months; however, his resignation is in the best interest of my district and my constituents. The trust we are given by our community as public officials is a privilege that I have taken very seriously in my more than 20 years as an elected official and will continue to do so,” said Connie Llanos, a press representative for Price.
Officials at the Lakewood-based WRD also issued a statement to HMG-CN on Tuesday afternoon, acknowledging Katherman’s indictment.
Spokesperson Peter Brown said: “The Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) has learned of allegations against Robert Katherman, who is a member of the WRD Board of Directors. The allegations are not related to WRD or its operations and the District will continue our steadfast commitment to provide safe, reliable and affordable drinking water to the district’s four million residents. WRD has earned a reputation for public transparency and sound fiscal operations as reflected by our national awards for financial accountability and for innovative groundwater projects.”
Katherman was elected to the Board in 2004 and according to his bio on the WRD website, he has more than 30 years of experience in land use planning, environmental impact analysis and governmental and community relations. He represents a wide portion of the South Bay and the Harbor area.
Katherman called HMG-CN late Tuesday afternoon and said that he and his wife Marilyn were going to “fight to prove they are innocent.”
Katherman said that the past week has been hard on his family, but said he has received an “outpouring” of support.
“I can’t get into the specifics of the case, I will leave that to my attorney,” Katherman said.
HMG-CN will have additional details as they develop.

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