12:09 AM PST on Sunday, February 14, 2010

By LAURIE LUCAS
The Press-Enterprise

Frank West, a former Moreno Valley councilman, feels as if the “black cloud” that has shadowed him for more than a year has disappeared.

After a 15-month investigation, a state regulatory agency exonerated West from accusations that he misused campaign funds, a claim that West has denied.

In a letter dated Feb. 4, the California Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento said it is closing this case without further action because it did not find “significant evidence of a violation of the Political Reform Act.”

West, 60, a retired probation officer, is “very happy” his name has been cleared. “The accusations harmed me personally and professionally,” he said. “I went from being active to avoiding the public. I’ve been reluctant to keep up my community involvement with this thing hanging over me.”

Michael Geller, the lawyer who filed the complaint, said he won’t pursue further litigation. “They had a lot of evidence,” he said, “but I don’t think civil action is appropriate.”

After 12 years on the City Council, West said he lost his 3rd District seat in 2008 to Robin Hastings as a direct consequence of a smear campaign orchestrated by Geller, head of the Moreno Valley Taxpayers Association.

In Geller’s complaint filed in late October 2008, he accused West, who represented Moreno Valley on the Riverside County Transportation Commission, of using more than $3,500 in campaign funds to pay for three trips in 2006 and 2007 on official county business.

The transportation agency then reimbursed West, who did not repay his campaign committee, Geller claimed.

West said that Geller’s group targeted him because he opposed developer Iddo Benzeevi’s plans to build warehouses in eastern Moreno Valley, which is in West’s district.

“Michael put together the taxpayer association, and Iddo filled it with money,” West said. Benzeevi’s company, Highland Fairview, donated $263,000 to the group’s efforts.

West said he didn’t have $300,000 or time to fight the taxpayer association’s vicious assault on his character, which included a blizzard of negative fliers only days before the election. “It killed it for me,” said West, who came in last in the 3-way election, behind Mike Rios.

West, who also had served on the Moreno Valley school board, said, “I thought I had a future in politics. I always won the election by a landslide. I’ve dedicated my life to public service.”

Karen West, the councilman’s wife of 20 years and his campaign treasurer, said she turned over to the election commission the records of every contribution.

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