Prison industry board member resigns

The ripples of a corruption investigation involving a Los Angeles neighborhood council are being felt in Sacramento, where a subject of the probe on Wednesday resigned his position on the governing board of the state Prison Industry Authority.

The board member, James T. Harris, a twice-convicted felon, was appointed to the PIA board last month by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles. He filled a seat held by Laurence Frank, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles, who served on the PIA board for several years.

Harris resigned at Bass’ request. “Due to the circumstances, we asked for his resignation.” Bass office confirmed that they had received Harris’ resignation letter.

Harris, 46, a previously convicted felon, was arrested on Oct. 8 on suspicion of misappropriating $85,000 in city funds. The Los Angeles Times on Oct. 9 reported that Harris has two previous robbery convictions dating from the 1990s in Los Angeles, but that prosecutors were unlikely to file a “third strike” case because time had elapsed since the earlier convictions. Court records showed that Harris was convicted in 1990 of disorderly conduct involving prostitution and of illegal possession of a firearm in 1996, according to the newspaper.

Harris allegedly bought money orders and made a series of cash withdrawals and credit card purchases that were not authorized by the council, according to an earlier Los Angeles Times report.

Harris was arrested in Los Angeles after city officials asked authorities to investigate financial transactions at the Empowerment Congress Southwest Area Neighborhood Development Council, where Harris has served as chairman and treasurer.

The council is one of dozens similar bodies run by the city that are intended to improve the quality of life in local communities. Harris, as part of his duties, worked with former inmates, gang members and others.

The Prison Industry Authority is a self-supporting state agency that provides training and work experience to inmates, and produces goods and services, including construction and farming. The PIA says that the inmates it trains have a 25 percent lower recidivism rate than the inmate population as a whole.

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