‘Inconceivable at this point’: Another LA City Council member is mired in scandal

By Zoie Matthew, Danielle Chiriguayo, Amy Ta

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price speaks during a college football playoff press conference on Nov. 17, 2022 at Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Los Angeles Councilmember Curren Price has been charged with 10 counts of embezzlement, perjury, and conflict of interest — making him the fourth member of LA City Council to face criminal charges in four years.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón alleges that Price had a financial stake in development projects that he voted on while serving on the council. 

According to the complaint filed on Tuesday, Price’s wife Del Richardson Price — founder of the company Del Richardson & Associates — received tens of thousands of dollars in payments between 2019 and 2021 related to projects Price voted to approve. However, she allegedly was not listed on financial disclosure forms required by the government. 

He was also accused of receiving medical benefits for his current wife while he was still married to his previous wife. 

Price, who has been in the council for a decade, announced on Tuesday that he will step down as council president pro tempore, and will withdraw himself from all committee assignments.

Council President Paul Krekorian announced Wednesday that he is introducing a motion to suspend Price. Meanwhile, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson will introduce a measure to solicit community input about the situation. Krekorian noted that the suspension is not a “foregone conclusion.” 

“In the past when there have been actions taken surrounding suspension, the people of the district have voiced their concerns about being left without representation,” Krekorian says. “So I want to make sure that this is a community-driven process and not a council president-driven process.”

This is just the latest in a series of scandals that have embroiled the council over the past several years. In October, a leaked recording of council members making racist remarks resulted in former Council President Nury Martinez stepping down from her role. 

Former Councilmember Jose Huizar pleaded guilty in another corruption charge earlier this year. And Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended after being indicted in 2021 on charges that he took bribes from the dean of USC. He was found guilty and is currently appealing the charges. 

“The definition of politics is about power, being able to have control over the distribution of resources,” explains Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC. “Money, developers, that's where a lot of the influence gets targeted. … There can be a lot of benefit for a lot of different kinds of people. For elected officials: getting campaign donations and influence to get them in power, to keep them in power.”

Dakota Smith, City Hall reporter for the Los Angeles Times, tells KCRW that the shock of another scandal being added to the list was palpable when other council members found out on Tuesday. 

“I think for anyone at City Hall, this is just another blow. We've seen so many indictments, so many resignations, so many scandals in the last five years that it's just incredible that another scandal has hit City Hall. It just is inconceivable at this point,” says Smith. 

LA Magazine journalist Jon Regardie says, “It's like this awful version of ‘Groundhog Day’ — we woke up and this has happened again. It is really impacting people's trust in Los Angeles, in their city government.”

The allegations Price faces are a far cry from the image he’s fostered over the years — a politician who fights for the little guy and lower-income communities in South LA. 

Jessica Levinson, former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and current professor at Loyola Law School, says it’s unclear how Price’s legal team will respond to the charges, or what legal repercussions he might face. Prison time is not off the table. 

“It's possible. I mean, on the one hand, this is a first offense, there are a lot of mitigating factors. These aren't violent crimes. On the other hand, we're talking about potentially, again, abuse of public trust and that’s serious,” she says. “You want to not only punish the person who allegedly undertook a violation of the public trust, but you also want to send a message that this is not okay in Los Angeles.” 

Going forward, Romero says transparency and community involvement are key in what happens with city government. “If more people … don't vote … [don’t] attend neighborhood councils … then you're just creating even more of a situation that's ripe for potential corruption.”

Levinson agrees. “We need to demand more of our representatives, we need to understand that being part of a democracy means more than showing up to vote every few years, which is frankly, not even something that most of us do. And we need to between those votes, hold our representatives accountable.”