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West Basin Municipal Water District director charged with embezzlement
A West Basin Municipal Water District director, along with a married couple with ties to the director, were charged with creating an elaborate embezzlement scheme to help the director pay about $20,000 in personal expenses, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced on Aug. 5.
Malibu is one of the cities under the jurisdiction of the West Basin Municipal Water District.
Ronald Craig Smith, who serves as treasurer of the water district, Robert Earl Katherman Jr. and his wife, Marilyn Katherman, are charged in the case.
Deputy District Attorney Alison Matsumoto Estrada with the Public Integrity Division is assigned to the case.
The Kathermans were in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Torrance for arraignment on Aug. 5, but it was rescheduled for Aug. 27. Smith pleaded not guilty the prior week and returned to Department 4 in Torrance on Aug. 12 to set a date for his preliminary hearing.
Smith is charged with seven felony counts, including two counts of misappropriation of public funds, four counts of perjury and one count of conflict of interest. The Kathermans are charged with two counts each of misappropriation of public funds.
Prosecutors said that the embezzlement scheme occurred after Smith got the West Basin Municipal Water District board to make multiple contributions to help sponsor the Adopt A Storm Drain Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation to promote water conservation, run by the Kathermans.
The contributions occurred over a three-year period, beginning in August 2010.
During the same period, Smith also contributed money from his district outreach fund that did not need board approval, prosecutors said.
Shortly after receiving the West Basin donations, prosecutors allege the Kathermans began writing checks from foundation accounts to schools and organizations that had no connection to the foundation.
The checks allegedly covered school and college tuition and paid for tennis and dance lessons for Smith’s children. Adopt A Storm Drain checks also allegedly paid for repairs to Smith’s boat and his rent.
Smith also allegedly wrote checks from his West Basin discretionary account to pay various school expenses for his children.
In all, about $20,000 was stolen, prosecutors said.
If convicted, Smith faces up to nine years in state prison. The Kathermans each face up to four years in state prison if convicted as charged.
The case remains under investigation by the Torrance Police Department.