Imagine getting convicted for multiple felonies and taking an “indefinite” leave of absence from work with no cut in your lucrative pay or threat of losing your job. This may sound delusional, but it’s the real-life story of a veteran legislator in the nation’s most populous state.
His name is Roderick Wright and he’s been a state senator in California since 2008, representing largely poor, minority communities in Los Angeles county that include Inglewood, Lawndale, Compton, Gardena and West Carson. Senator Wright is a black Democrat in a famously liberal state with a throwback-from-the-70s-and-80s-governor, Jerry Brown.
In late January a Los Angeles county jury found Senator Wright guilty of eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury. The shameful convictions were delivered four years after an L.A. grand jury indicted the lawmaker on the same counts. Wright, who previously served in the state assembly, illegally claimed a bogus residence when he initially ran for the state senate. Prosecutors charged him with one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy, five counts of voter fraud and two counts of perjury. He was also charged with fraudulently voting in elections in 2008 and 2009.
After getting convicted the disgraced legislator decided to take a leave of absence from his cushy public job, which pays $90,525, more than double what many of the constituents he represents make. The felon lawmaker needs to prepare to fight the convictions so he’s just collecting his taxpayer salary while he works with his legal team to appeal the case. Evidently, California’s constitution prevents withholding the pay of a state legislator who has been suspended or is on a leave of absence.
Taxpayers might logically counter that this is different because Wright hasn’t just been suspended, he’s actually been criminally convicted in a U.S. court of law. The veteran legislator has benefited from due process. He was innocent until proven guilty and should be stripped of his public salary while he awaits sentencing. California’s senate leader, Democrat Darrell Steinberg, disagrees and granted Wright the paid leave. Steinberg actually told a mainstream newspaper that it would be premature to expel his pal before a trial judge affirmed his conviction and sentenced him.
This month Wright told the state’s largest newspaper that it’s been “challenging” to be away from work. “I have been kinda, sorta involved in public policy for a long time,” he said. The reporter asked Wright why he didn’t voluntarily forgo pay during his leave of absence. Here is the outrageous response: Get ready for the answer: “Why would I do that? If I were a police officer and I shot someone, I wouldn’t be asked to do that. There are no other state employees that would be asked to do that. Why should I be treated differently than someone who works at the highway patrol or the DMV?” He forgot to mention a crucial detail; he’s been convicted of multiple felonies!
Another California state senator, Democrat Ronald Calderon, could also be on his way to the slammer and is receiving full pay while he fights federal corruption charges. The feds say Calderon accepted nearly $100,000 in cash bribes as well as plane trips, gourmet dinners and trips to golf resorts in exchange for supporting legislation that would benefit those paying the bribes. The lawmaker thought the bribes were coming from a hospital owner and independent film studio but instead it was the FBI, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). A federal grand jury has indicted Calderon with mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.
Illustrating that public corruption has no age limit or boundary, the 91-year-old mayor of a tiny Alabama town has been convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from city coffers and a chunk of the cash went to her live-in boyfriend.
The story comes from River Falls, a quaint 7-square-mile town with a population of about 600. The municipality is located near the Florida border and is best known as a drive-through of sorts for people traveling to the Sunshine State’s famously pristine Panhandle beaches.
For about three decades a woman named Mary Ella Hixon has served as mayor of River Falls and it seems she’s been using taxpayer funds as her personal piggy bank. When the local newspaper started digging around about a questionable deal a few months ago, authorities launched an investigation.
They found that Mayor Hixon, who looks like she could be anyone’s grandma, had stolen at least $201,000 from the south Alabama town over the years. She also transferred a city-owned property to her live-in companion without getting approval from the city council. Police say the stolen cash went to Hixon’s relatives, her boyfriend and his relatives. She also gave some money to co-workers at a development company where she worked.
Hixon’s live-in companion, Richard Moss, has also been charged with four counts of theft for earning at least $80,000 for work he never performed as a “nighttime policeman.” For two years Mayor Hixon paid her boy toy $452.50 per week even though he never worked for the town, according to the local paper. At the time Moss was the administrator of a nearby county’s jail.
The mayor also used town funds to pay the salaries of other friends who never did any work, including nearly $20,000 to a pal who supposedly repaired water lines and another who got about $9,000 for a different bogus job. When Hixon discovered that a “concerned citizen” had secretly recorded her admitting her illegal conduct, she paid the person hush money and ordered him/her to lie to police.
Hixon has been sentenced to a decade in prison, however, the judge took into consideration “her advanced age” and reduced it to five years of probation. She also must pay $200 per month in restitution and a lien has been placed on her home. Who would have thought? In a newspaper photo taken on the day of her court hearing, she looks like a harmless little old lady with white hair, glasses and a brown bead necklace.