Aide Resigns From L.A. Councilman’s Staff After Being Charged in Water District Embezzlement Case

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An advisor resigned from the staff of Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price after being charged in an embezzlement case that also implicated the staffer’s wife and a local water district director, officials said Tuesday.

Robert "Rob" Katherman is seen in an official photo. (Credit: Water Replenishment District of Southern California)

Robert “Rob” Katherman is seen in an official photo. (Credit: Water Replenishment District of Southern California)

The former aide and his wife are accused of participating in a scheme that helped West Basin Municipal Water District Treasurer Ronald Craig Smith, 55, pay about $20,000 in personal expenses, according to a statement for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

According to prosecutors, Smith convinced the water district’s board to contribute to a water conservation nonprofit founded by Price’s deputy, Robert “Rob” Earl Katherman Jr., 68, and wife Marilyn Katherman, 65.

Checks written from the Kathermans’ nonprofit, Adopt A Storm Drain Foundation, in turn covered tuition expenses and tennis and dance lessons for Smith’s children as well as Smith’s rent and repairs to his boat, according to the DA’s office.

The Kathermans were charged with two counts of misappropriating funds, while Smith was charged with two counts of misappropriation of public funds, four counts of perjury and one count of conflict of interest, all felonies.

Robert Katherman resigned as Price’s deputy chief of staff for planning and economic development on Monday, a spokeswoman for the 9th District councilman confirmed. Price did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Any funds that were spent or misspent by Ron Smith, I was completely unaware of,” Katherman told the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve written checks to nonprofits thinking they were for educational purposes, and I’m not quite sure how these checks got credited to Ron’s family expenses.”

Before joining Price’s staff in 2013, Katherman spent “25 year in the private sector, running his own small consulting firm which specialized in project management, land use and environmental planning,” according to a biography page that remained active Tuesday on the councilman’s official website. Katherman had also worked for various municipal departments in Los Angeles.

The Kathermans appeared in Torrance Superior Court Tuesday morning for an arraignment hearing, which was rescheduled for Aug. 27.

Smith pleaded not guilty last week and was expected to appear in court on Aug. 12 for a preliminary hearing.

The embezzlement occurred after Smith was able to convince the West Basin board to support Adopt A Storm Drain Foundation, which “works to conserve our waters and ensure sustainable watersheds through education, technology and consumer behavior,” according to its website.

The contributions were made over a three-year period that began in August 2010, according to the DA’s office. During the same period, Smith also allegedly contributed money from his district outreach fund that did not require board approval.

After receiving the West Basin donations, the Kathermans allegedly wrote checks from foundation accounts to schools and organizations that had no connection to the foundation.

Smith also allegedly wrote checks from his West Basin discretionary account to pay various school expenses for his children.

Smith and the Kathermans face up to nine years and four years in state prison, respectively, if convicted on all charges, the DA’s office said.

An investigation by the Torrance Police Department was ongoing.