Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. has been credited with “saving” the city of Inglewood from bankruptcy with many questioning how he managed to do so. In the now infamous USA Today interview he told the reporter he “gets shit done” while other Inglewood elected’s pondered “why do major developers and sports teams” continue to do business with him. 2UrbanGirls has obtained documents from the Department of Finance and a 2016 lawsuit to provide some clarity on how Butts “gets shit done”.
“This man has consistently and repeatedly done things that have been corrupt and yet somehow these major developers of sports teams continue to do business with him,” said D’Artagnan Scorza, president of the Inglewood Unified School District, “because ultimately it gets them what they want, right?”
2UrbanGirls reviewed the lawsuit filed by former Inglewood Budget and Accounting Manager Barbara Ohno, who levied claims that the city was involved in defrauding the CA Department of Finance (DOF), and the Department of Justice over monies received from both entities.
The now defunct Morningside Park Chronicle (MPC) wrote extensively about property transfers, the DOF deemed unallowable. The city continued to provide documents that showed the properties were transferred after the established deadline for projects to be in process after redevelopment agencies were abolished. If there weren’t active projects on those sites, the city is obligated to return money and property to the state of California or face economic sanctions of the state withholding sales and property tax allocations. Instead, it appears Mayor Butts used the money to make residents believe he turned around the city’s finances.
From the MPC:
Also of note are the properties along 102nd Street which had previously been marked for a significant development that could have generated millions in property tax and up to 7,000 permanent jobs. Instead of moving ahead with a massive project that would have benefited the community, the property was instead leased to Madison Square Garden as a parking lot—a “project” that will generate zero property tax and a handful of part-time jobs.
One of the letters from the DoF dated January 17, 2013 states “[the City of Inglewood as Successor Agency] contends the transfer of cash was used to pay the Agency’s obligations. Accounting records and DDR auditor statements illustrates $24,195,793 of the transferred cash paid for [a number of] 2011 Agency expenditures.” At present the DoF and the Agency are in litigation regarding the contended $24 million amount.
The city attempted to provide documents to the DOF, that were neither signed nor dated, to show the projects began before the deadline.
Treasurer Wanda Brown explained Mayor Butts approached her, December 18, 2014, during the annual two week closure of city hall, asking her to sign documents related to the $24 million otherwise the city’s sales and property tax allocations would be withheld. Brown documented this in the below Letter to the Editor.
The $24 million payment never went on a council agenda for disclosure to the public, and Ohno detailed in her lawsuit how she was never given the appropriate paperwork to record the payment to the city’s books.
Email correspondence between the city and DOF detail repeated requests of the city to provide executed documents related to the property transfers and projects allegedly associated with them.
Defendant Esparza requested not to disclose backdating of the Department of Finance repayment of unauthorized and questionable use of redevelopment money, the city’s use of CDBG money to repay the DOF when there was insufficient funds in the redevelopment accounts and the city’s request not to disclose to the auditors and the DOF that properties listed on the long range plan with the DOF had ground water contamination and the degree of contamination and that properties listed on the long range plan with the DOF had titles that were not properly transferred and still recorded as belonging to the city.
Other property transfers occurred in May 2013, in a single transaction, notarized by city employee Tunisia Johnson. The properties included parcels being sold to Steve Ballmer on 102nd Street and Century Blvd. Johnson received a home from the city’s Housing Authority, two months later, in July 2013. Johnson notarized a new set of documents related to those parcels two months ago. Ohno noted in her lawsuit “Johnson received a home ownership second mortgage loan despite her income level disqualifying her from receiving it”.
Properties on Market Street were also included in the May 2013 transfer. Former successor agency properties on Market Street were sold to Inglewood Market Gateway, LLC, on July 26, 2016, which lists Thomas Safran as CEO, and who is a regular contributor to Butts’ campaigns.
In September 2018 the agreement was amended and signed by Yakema Decatur, deputy to city manager Artie Fields. Decatur has also taken it upon herself to initial staff reports, confirming the city’s legal department reviewed the accompanying documents, instead of City Attorney Ken Campos. Are crucial documents intentionally bypassing his office?
The mixed used development was supposed to break ground in 1st quarter of 2017 yet three years later, the property remains undeveloped and is currently being used as a parking lot for construction workers.
Several city accounting employees alerted CFO David Esparza and Assistant CFO Sharon Koike about the misuse of redevelopment, asset forfeiture, and Cops Hiring Program (CHP) grant funds, provided by the department of justice, to be used to hire more police officers. Instead of hiring officers, senior officers were promoted.
Defendants Esparza and Koike told Plaintiff [Ohno] that Asset Forfeiture Fund money could be used for any purpose that Defendant Mayor Butts wanted and that Plaintiff needed to “fall in line” with the Mayor’s directives as to how the grant money would be used regardless of federal DOJ guidelines.
The city enlisted the services of Mayer Hoffman McCann (MHM) to provide bogus accounting of the city’s books, which resulted in MHM billing for services not performed. Esparza allowed MHM to keep the overpayments because “they were the only accounting firm willing to provide the city with a clean audit opinion”.
Mayer Hoffman McCann was fined $300,000 in 2012 as a result of their failure to identify the financial problems in the city of Bell.
This is a new multi-part series “Eye on Mayor Butts” utilizing the lawsuit of Barbara Ohno, and documents from the Department of Finance, to corroborate claims by Treasurer Wanda Brown that the city is in dire financial straits. Butts gambled heavy on the NFL and with every day the stadium isn’t open to the public, the city’s financial solvency hangs by a piece of dental floss ready to snap at a moments notice.