By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
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By Jake Rossen
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By Kelsey McClure
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"I saw him at work that Friday, and the next day I got a call from his wife, telling me he was dead," he says. "It was shocking. This was a man who took good care of himself. He didn't drink, he watched what he ate and he walked every day. No one expected him to die at 50 years old."
Clearly Butt hadn't planned for his departure, either. After his death, Pine Lawn and Beverly Hills officials scrambled to locate and decipher the cities' financial records. Some were at Butt's home in Ladue, others in his car. Butt, they say, took computer passwords and bank-account numbers to his grave, fueling wild speculation about dozens of "secret" accounts he may have created. Horskins, for example, says he heard that Pine Lawn's money was held in 15 different banks. Horskins, who admits he has no real proof, believes something shady was going on. Tim Head, the city's new accountant, says there were actually 15 different accounts in four banks and if there was something untoward in Butt's accounting, "it would have likely been picked up in the audits."
Wright bristles at continuing accusations about how the city manages -- or mismanages -- its affairs: "All these accusations have been going on for years. If any of these people had change for a quarter, I would have sued years ago."
Undaunted, several organizations, including Pine Lawn ACORN (the local chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and Concerned Citizens of Pine Lawn, filed a joint complaint with McCulloch, the county prosecutor. The groups charge that Wright violated state law by buying four city properties without first making them available for public auction. Wright admits to buying four properties but maintains he did it legally. McCulloch has yet to respond, but Wright says he isn't worried. "Let them investigate," he says. "We don't have nothing to hide, because we aren't doing anything wrong."
It is easy to see why Wright says his political opponents are behind the investigations.
Horskins is a member of Pine Lawn ACORN. Cheris Metts, who is acting as the organization's secretary and is also president of Concerned Citizens of Pine Lawn, has a longstanding feud with Wright, one that includes allegations that the mayor put a gun to her son's head not once but twice.
Metts' account of the incident, which she says occurred several years ago, when her son was 9, has never been substantiated. The reason, Metts says, is that the city conspired to keep it quiet. "I found out [a minister's] son-in-law knew somebody who was connected to the FBI, and they rigged up something to prove that this wasn't true," she says. "We was at the point we couldn't sue and couldn't file criminal charges, either, because it was Daniel's [her son's] word against the mayor." She adds, in a whisper, "But one of the citizens who just passed away says he overhead them all in Wright's office talking about Daniel. They thought they had scared Daniel enough so he wouldn't talk, but he did."
Metts also suggests that the conspiracy to protect the mayor stretches to the county prosecutor's office. "The day we turned our complaints over to Bob McCulloch, the mayor ended up with a copy," Metts says. "Now, how did he get a copy, unless McCulloch gave it to him? I'm telling you, they are all in this together." (Our efforts to reach McCulloch's spokesman for comment were unsuccessful.)
Wright, for his part, suggests that Metts is a few peas short of a casserole. "She tried to get everyone involved in her craziness. These are reputable people, and they never heard such a crazy tale. She is accusing all of us of being in on this," the mayor says. "Can you believe that? I don't know Daniel from anybody else. All that was investigated and was unfounded because it's a lie. It never happened."
Of course, if a majority of Pine Lawn residents are truly "disgrumbled" at the mayor and his cronies, they would have tossed the bums out by now, right?
Easier said than done, say Wright's political opponents, especially considering that the person who registers candidates in Pine Lawn happens to be Wright's biggest political ally -- his wife, Janet.
Janet Wright has served as city clerk since 1990, almost three years before her husband was elected mayor. "When she became city clerk, I started coming to meetings," Wright says. "I saw how things were being run and decided I could make a difference. Now, all these years later, people are crying nepotism. These are the same ones who voted for her to be reappointed as city clerk."
There is no denying that politics are at play. Wright encouraged Griffin to run, and Griffin voted for Janet Wright to be reappointed as city clerk. But when Griffin's relationship with Adrian Wright soured (Griffin says it was because her husband put a political sign for an opposing mayoral candidate in their yard), Janet Wright refused to put her on the ballot for re-election. "She said I hadn't paid my trash bill, but I knew I had and even had the receipt," Griffin fumes. "By the time I took it down there to prove it, [Janet] said she was sorry but that the deadline had already passed."