LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian introduced a motion Wednesday to suspend Councilman Curren Price, who has been charged with theft by embezzlement, perjury and conflict of interest for allegedly voting on projects involving developers tied to his wife's consulting firm, then failing to report the connections.
Motions were also introduced to have Councilman Marqueece Harris- Dawson fill Price's position of president pro tempore of the council, and to initiate a process for community input from Ninth District residents.
For the time being, Krekorian said he will be appointing Councilman Bob Blumenfield as the assistant pro tem.
The motion to suspend Price, pursuant to Section 211 of the City Charter, will proceed to the Rules Committee for a hearing, then back to the full council for a final vote. A Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee meeting is scheduled a week from Friday, but Krekorian said the council might agree to a special session to discuss the motion sooner.
At a news conference Wednesday morning at City Hall to explain the council's next steps, Krekorian acknowledged that the council has been rocked by a number of scandals in recent years which are "palpably felt by me, by the members of the council and certainly by the members of the public."
But he also recognized the need to look at these cases as "things that stand on their own." Regarding the charges against Price, Krekorian noted that the council does not know whether they have merit. The judicial process will bear that out, he added.
"The process will give the council adequate opportunity to consider all of the issues, including the nature of the charges that have been filed and the impacts of suspension of the people of the Ninth District," Krekorian said.
If the council ultimately makes the decision to suspend Price, Krekorian said he would "immediately appoint a caretaker" to ensure that the work of the Ninth District office continues. Krekorian said the caretaker could be a temporary voting member.
"That is obviously a deeply political process that the community will have to have significant weigh-in as to who that person might be to represent them as a temporary voting member," he added.
Harris-Dawson introduced the motion to initiate the process for community input from the Ninth District.
Krekorian cited a need to engage constituents "because in the past when there had been actions taken surrounding suspension, the people of the district have voice their concerns about being left without representation."
Krekorian's motion to suspend Price had already gained Blumenfield's support.
"This continuous string of charges against city officials is depressing and demoralizing," Blumenfield said in a statement released shortly before the news conference. "So many people within council offices and city departments work their tails off to do good for our city with integrity and determination. These charges hurt the public trust that dedicated public servants have worked to build up. After the charges, scandals and convictions, we cannot become numb to corruption.
"We must restore trust and integrity in our local government and as much as it pains me because of Mr. Price's long record of excellent service, I fully support Council President Krekorian introducing legislation to suspend Councilmember Price."
Late Tuesday afternoon, Price had sent a letter to Krekorian announcing his decision to step down as council president pro tem, and surrendering all of his committee assignments.
"While I navigate through the judicial system to defend my name against unwarranted charges filed against me, the last thing I want to do is be a distraction to the people's business," Price wrote in the letter.
An arraignment date is still pending for Price. The criminal complaint, filed Tuesday, also alleges that Price effectively embezzled money between 2013 and 2017 by having the city cover roughly $33,800 in medical premiums for Del Richardson, to whom he claimed to be married, although he was still married at the time to Lynn Suzette Price.
Price, 72, has represented the Ninth District, which includes most of South Los Angeles and the western part of downtown Los Angeles, since 2013. He previously served in the state Assembly and state Senate.
The councilman was charged with five counts of grand theft by embezzlement, three counts of perjury and two counts of conflict of interest, according to a criminal complaint provided by the District Attorney's Office.
Price's spokeswoman, Angelina Valencia-Dumarot, told City News Service on Tuesday afternoon that "it's highly unusual for charges like this to be brought up against a sitting City Council member without any prior notice or discussion.
"Curren Price is a longstanding public servant who has given his life to the city of Los Angeles. He looks forward to defending himself once he's had an opportunity to address these charges," she added.
Zach Seidl, spokesman for Mayor Karen Bass, issued a statement Tuesday saying, "The mayor has yet to review the charges filed earlier today but she is saddened by this news."
According to the complaint, between 2019 and 2021, Price's wife's consulting firm, Del Richardson & Associates, received payments totaling more than $150,000 from a pair of developers, after which Price voted on matters pertaining to the companies. He also allegedly failed to report the connections or the money paid to his wife's company on city disclosure forms.
"Today's charges against Councilman Curren Price are the result of a thorough investigation into allegations of public corruption," District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. "This alleged conduct undermines the integrity of our government and erodes the public's trust in our elected officials. We will continue to work tirelessly to root out corruption at all levels and hold accountable those who betray the public's trust."
Price is the latest Los Angeles city official to fall into legal or political turmoil. Former council members Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander have both pleaded guilty to federal charges in recent years, while Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was convicted earlier this year of federal charges for trading votes during his time on the county Board of Supervisors in exchange for benefits provided by USC to his son.
Former City Council President Nury Martinez resigned last year after being caught on tape in a racially charged conversation with two other council members and a county labor official discussing the council's redistricting process.