West Basin Municipal Water District Board Member Ronald Smith pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Torrance Superior Court to charges of misusing public funds. His bail has been set to $125,000 and he was ordered to return Aug. 12 for a preliminary hearing.
He was arrested on Saturday by Long Beach police.
Elected to the West Basin Board of Directors eight years ago, Smith represents Carson, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and parts of San Pedro.
Smith was charged with two felony counts of misusing public funds, one felony count of conflict of interest and four felony counts of filing a false affidavit. He allegedly used about $20,000 in public funds to pay for rent, boat repairs and his children’s tuition, dance and tennis lessons, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
He allegedly got the board to agree to donate money to a nonprofit, which then wrote checks for the tuition and other expenses, according to prosecutors. They also allege that Smith wrote checks from his own West Basin discretionary funds for those expenses.
Someone from the nonprofit became suspicious and contacted police in the fall of 2013. Prosecutors began investigating in January. The District Attorney’s Office filed a felony complaint for an arrest warrant on July 3.
West Basin Municipal Water District (West Basin) Board of Directors unanimously voted on Tuesday to remove Smith as West Basin Board Treasurer and assign the Treasurer responsibilities and position to West Basin’s Chief Financial Officer Margaret Moggia.
During the special board meeting, West Basin directors discussed board assignments and an audit of the directors’ outreach and sponsorship programs. The Board also directed staff to implement a combined forensic and financial audit of the outreach and sponsorship funds and any other relevant programs. The audit will be conducted by an external, independent auditing firm.
“I fully support the immediacy of the Board’s actions today to address the serious nature of the alleged charges against Ronald C. Smith. The Board and staff remain fully committed to continuing to meet the mission of the District,” said West Basin Board President Donald L. Dear.
A father of seven, Smith filed bankruptcy in 2007. He won re-election in 2010 against Louis Atwell, current Inglewood Public Works Director. Atwell came to Inglewood in 2012.
Edward C. Little was the only board member who did not support Smith, noting that he had concerns about his personal finance issues. “He is unreliable,” Little said. Little retired from the board in May and moved to Virginia.
West Basin stated in a letter that it will “do everything possible to recover ratepayers’ funds,” should the alleged charges result in a conviction.
If convicted of all charges, Smith could face up to nine years in state prison.