PALMDALE – Former Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, who’s accused of illegally receiving more than $60,000 a year from local consultants and failing to publicly disclose the income on economic disclosure statements, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to five felony counts.
Ledford, 67, was charged in June 2017 with one count each of conspiracy to commit a crime and conflict of interest and three counts of perjury by declaration. A judge ruled in December that there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
If convicted as charged, Ledford — whose next court date is an April 22 pretrial hearing — could be sentenced to more than four years in prison, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
Charged along with Ledford were Kimberly Anne Shaw, 65, who had been a consultant for the city of Palmdale for two decades, and Susan Burgess Miller, 72, who was the executive director of the AERO Institute. Shaw pleaded guilty in January 2020 to a felony count of filing a false tax return for 2013 and was sentenced to three years probation. Miller pleaded guilty earlier that month to one count of misappropriation of public funds and was also sentenced to probation.
The criminal complaint alleges that the defendants utilized various shell companies to pay Ledford about $5,200 a month.
Miller, doing business as Complex Culture Change Consulting or CCCC, hired Ledford in August 2009 as a consultant at or around the same time the AERO Institute began paying CCCC nearly all of its monthly income, according to the criminal complaint. AERO Institute paid Miller’s consulting firm more than $13,000 a month over a four-year period, and the company, in turn, paid Ledford $5,200 a month, the District Attorney’s Office alleges. Prosecutors allege that Ledford did not perform any substantive work for AERO Institute during that time period.
Shaw received more than $150,000 annually from AERO in consulting fees and the Palmdale City Council voted in 2012 to boost her contract to an amount not to exceed $3.9 million over seven years, according to the D.A.’s office.
The criminal complaint alleges that Ledford voted in favor of that seven-year contract between Palmdale and Shaw, but that he “failed to disclose that he was indirectly receiving substantial income from AERO Institute, a non-profit corporation controlled by defendant Shaw.”
Ledford is also accused of “knowingly, intentionally and deliberately” failing to disclose on economic disclosure statements in 2015, 2016 and 2017 “that he had received substantial income the preceding year from AERO Institute, a business with which the city of Palmdale had a contract for rent and other services.” The nonprofit leased the Palmdale public property for $1 annually, according to the D.A.’s office.
Ledford’s one-time defense attorney, Anthony Falangetti, said shortly after his client was charged that he had “dutifully served the city,” telling reporters that Palmdale had seen “positive growth, a number of things that have benefited the city, including the subject matter of the charges, the AERO Institute. My client has consistently been above board with his involvement both in that and in other projects with the city.”
At some point, the public defender’s office stepped in to represent Ledford, at least temporarily, and it is not clear who is leading his defense at this time. Ledford served 13 terms as mayor of Palmdale and was last elected to the post in 2016. He refused to step down despite calls to do so and ran again in 2018.
Despite the criminal charges against him, Ledford garnered roughly 34% of the vote, but lost to Steve Hofbauer, who has since been re-elected to a second term as the city’s mayor.