Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price made his first appearance in court Thursday morning on charges that he bilked the city out of thousands of dollars in health insurance payments and voted on contracts in which he had a financial interest.
Price, 72, sought to have his arraignment on grand theft by embezzlement, perjury and conflict of interest charges continued until Aug. 28, a request that was granted by L.A. County Superior Court Judge Kimberley Baker Guillemet.
The veteran politician did not enter a plea and did not speak to reporters assembled inside the downtown L.A. courtroom.
L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón filed the charges against Price last month. The embezzlement allegations stem from charges that he received nearly $34,000 in medical benefits that he was not entitled to because he listed his current wife, Del Richardson Price, as his spouse on city forms from 2013 to 2017, according to the criminal complaint. Prosecutors allege Price was still legally married to another woman at the time. Price and Richardson Price did not legally marry until 2018, court records show.
Richardson Price, who accompanied her husband to Thursday’s hearing, declined to speak to reporters before the brief court appearance.
In a written statement, Curren Price said he was grateful for the continuance.
“As we said when the charges were brought, we believe that the charges filed by the D.A.’s office are completely unwarranted and that the facts will bear this out,” Price said. “I have always conducted myself, in and out of the public eye, with integrity and professionalism.”
The council member remains free without bail, though L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Casey Higgins asked Guillemet to set a few conditions on his release Thursday.
Price will have to be formally booked at a police station and then released, and he must publicly announce any conflicts of interest and recuse himself from all future council votes connected to his wife or her former firm, Del Richardson & Associates, according to Higgins. Guillemet granted the conditions.
If convicted of all charges, Price could face eight to 10 years in state prison, depending on whether prosecutors seek consecutive or concurrent sentences, Higgins said after the hearing.
Price hasn’t provided a detailed rebuttal to the charges. When asked about his marriages in 2017, he said he thought his divorce from his previous wife had been finalized and that he was legally married to Richardson Price.
The conflict of interest counts stem from allegations that Del Richardson & Associates received more than $150,000 between 2019 and 2021 from companies incorporated or co-owned by real estate developers with projects before Price.
In the criminal complaint, prosecutors alleged that Price cast votes in support of two affordable housing projects — one in South L.A., the other on the Westside — during the period when his wife’s consulting firm was working for developers of those same projects. Neither project was in Price’s district.
The perjury charges center on allegations that Price failed to list income Richardson Price received from those developers on his financial disclosure forms.
At the time Price voted for the two projects, he was already under scrutiny. The Times reported in April 2019 that Price had voted on matters involving at least 10 companies that were listed on his disclosure forms as having provided income to his wife’s firm.
Months later, the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission opened an investigation into Price, after receiving a complaint that accused him of voting on projects that generated income for his wife, in violation of conflict of interest law. The complaint was filed by Susan Hunter, who at the time was a community organizer with the Coalition to Preserve L.A., a group backed by the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which opposes development projects.
Hunter also accused Price of putting false information about his wife’s income on his financial disclosure statements, according to FPPC paperwork obtained by The Times.
In June 2019, the FPPC sent Price and his wife a letter informing them that it was investigating Hunter’s complaint. The agency said it would be forwarding a similar notification letter to Hunter. In an interview this this week, Hunter said the D.A.’s office never contacted her.
Jay Wierenga, a spokesperson for the FPPC, said he cannot confirm any connection between the letter and the criminal charges, or if his agency was working with prosecutors. On Thursday, Higgins said the FPPC was aware of the allegations in the case and had provided discovery. He declined to comment further on any connection between any complaint made to the FPPC and the D.A.’s case.
Price stopped attending council meetings after the charges were filed. He stepped down as president pro tempore, the council’s No. 2 leadership position, and from all of his committee assignments.
He has continued to represent his South L.A. district, and recently met with residents affected by the LAPD’s botched detonation of an illegal fireworks cache in a residential neighborhood in 2021. Meanwhile, council members have delayed a vote on whether to suspend him, deferring that decision until Aug. 25 at the earliest.
Times staff writer Julia Wick contributed to this report.