The wife of Los Angeles Councilman Curren Price Jr. demanded the city of Inglewood pay her $22,000 for medical costs she incurred during years when Price was legally married to another woman, according to court documents and a rejected claim.
Price served as an Inglewood councilman for two terms, leaving office in 2006, and received lifetime benefits as a result. He and his wife are now covered by both cities.
The claim adds to the general muddiness around when exactly Price and his current wife, Delbra Richardson, tied the knot. Because Price and Richardson could not have legally married until his divorce finalized last year, Richardson’s claim could constitute perjury if she filed it knowing she wasn’t legally his spouse during the years in question.
If the two marriages did overlap, it could qualify as bigamy, a crime in California. Price has listed Richardson’s companies as sources of income for his spouse on economic disclosures since 2013.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing a complaint about Price’s two marriages submitted two years ago, according to a spokesman. He declined to provide additional information.
Regardless, Richardson would not have qualified for health benefits from Inglewood or Los Angeles, as a spouse or domestic partner, until Price’s previous marriage officially ended last year.
In her claim against Inglewood, Richardson alleged the city owes her $22,000 for premiums she paid out-of-pocket because the city did not start covering her until January 2018.
“The City neglected to cover my premiums as well, even thought (sic) the ordinance expressly includes both the Councilman and spouse,” she wrote in a claim rejected by the Inglewood City Council this month. “The City later promised it would reimburse me for the past 3 years, which included 2015-2017. The City is now refusing to reimburse me, claiming it would be a ‘gift of public funds.’”
Divorce delayed for years
Court records show Price filed for divorce from his previous wife, Lynn Suzette Price, in 2011, but the matter was not finalized, potentially due to an error, until February 2018, according to the records. The Los Angeles Times questioned the divorce in 2017 and a campaign spokesman stated Price was operating under the belief his divorce had been completed.
Days later, Price reopened the case with a new attorney, records show.
In April, a city spokesperson for the councilman told the Times that Richardson and Price married in Idaho in 2018. The date was provided in response to a story about Price’s votes on decisions involving Richardson’s clients.
Wife won’t pursue claim
Angelina Valencia, Price’s spokeswoman, requested two extensions this week for more time to answer questions about the couple’s marriage and the claim Richardson filed. After three days, Valencia declined to comment and instead referred the questions to an attorney.
Attorney Clifton Albright said he advised Richardson not to take the claim to court and she agreed. He would not explain the reasoning behind his advice, citing attorney-client privilege.
Albright said he did not know when Price and Richardson were married, or when Richardson began collecting health insurance from either city. He declined to answer further questions.
Covered by both cities
Price is one of two former Inglewood City Council members with lifetime health benefits. An ordinance passed in 2003 required the city to pay 100 percent of the medical premiums for the councilman and his spouse for life in exchange for a one-time $10,000 payment to the city.
The couple also collects health benefits from the city of Los Angeles, where Price collected a base salary of more than $206,000 in 2018, according to Transparent California.
In an email in February, Valencia said the two plans allow Price to “have other options and more coverage to address developing healthcare needs.” Richardson uses the plans when the coverage options “best meets her health care needs,” Valencia said.
“Of course, the councilman and his wife must pay for their health insurance premiums, deductibles, plus other out-of-pocket expenses that arise,” she wrote in the email.
Combined, the two cities paid about $30,000 toward the family’s health care last year, according to public records. A spokesman for Los Angeles’ Personnel Department said the city would not release information showing when Richardson began receiving coverage.
Robert Fellner, executive director of the nonprofit public pay database Transparent California, believes the case shows why cities need to be more transparent about public employees’ benefits.
“This certainly seems like a misuse of taxpayer funds somewhere,” he said.
Inglewood coverage started before divorce final
Price asked Inglewood to add Richardson to his plan in 2018, according to Valencia. Inglewood City Manager Artie Fields also confirmed in an email that Richardson began receiving coverage in January 2018.
The enrollment took place before Price officially divorced his previous wife, according to the court records.
Fields denied the city offered to reimburse Richardson for the three prior years. The city is not responsible for any costs incurred before the enrollment, he said. The Inglewood City Council rejected Richardson”s claim earlier this month.
“There was never any commitment by the city to provide retroactive reimbursement for medical plan expenses,” Fields said. “The benefit provides for the coverage of a spouse from the date the qualifying individual elects to add them.”
Program ended because of costs
The Inglewood City Council ended the lifetime employee benefit program in 2014 because of rising costs. The city spent $4.5 million on retiree health care in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Aside from Price, the only other former Inglewood council member to receive the benefit is Jose Fernandez, the former Centinela Valley school superintendent charged with embezzlement and conflict of interest for manipulating his pay and benefits.
None of the retirees can be dropped from the program, even if convicted, officials said.