The personal check that District Attorney John Newsome wrote in April to "reimburse" his office for travel expenses six months earlier is not the drab kind that comes free with a checking account.
It's emblazoned with the "SC" of his alma mater, the University of Southern California, and an image of the school's iconic Trojan warrior. Cute, except that the Southern Cal fan is now facing a state-level investigation to see if he misspent taxpayer money when he saw his Trojans play Notre Dame during an October work trip.
And questions about that issue have sharpened the edges in a re-election battle that was pretty pointed even from the start.
Dan May, the former second-in-command in the local DA's office who lost the Republican primary to Newsome in 2004, entered this race only after local TV station KOAA-Channels 5/30 aired a story documenting Newsome drinking about 130 ounces of beer in five hours one evening before driving off in his county-owned Jeep. May's campaign has made sure that's remained a central issue, and the evolving football story has provided more fodder.
One question has been resolved: May's campaign repeatedly asked for proof that Newsome's check was cashed, and a deposit ticket was finally provided this week.
But there are lingering questions about comments reported in the Gazette that Newsome "flagged" expenses from his October trip so he would be reminded later to pay them. Newsome declined to speak to the Indy for this story, answering questions by e-mail instead.
Asked about how these expenses were marked for repayment, and why open-records requests for documents showing such markings were given the response "No such document exists," Newsome wrote, "All receipts were immediately turned into the financial manager upon our return. Our itinerary was known in advance. A thorough review of the financial records of the office over four years shows that I am a trustworthy and conscientious custodian of public funds."
Newsome and a police detective had traveled to Chicago for five days last October to interview 17 witnesses in connection with the 2006 slaying of police officer Ken Jordan. On day four of the trip, the two made a side trip to South Bend, Ind., to watch USC play Notre Dame.
After questions were raised about the side trip, he wrote a check for $584.90 to the DA's office. In his e-mail, he explains he wrote the check in an "abundance of caution," reimbursing "substantially more that I personally owed to the office, including an amount to cover hotel, gas and per diems."
Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter announced this week the state attorney general has designated two former district attorneys as special prosecutors to look into whether Newsome broke the law. Democratic State Sen. John Morse has suggested his use of public money could be construed as embezzlement.
On his Web site, newsome4da.com, Newsome calls embezzlement talk "absurd," and the whole travel story part of an "orchestrated smear campaign." He criticizes the media's focus on "beer and football," and has portrayed that as being behind his refusal to open himself up to public scrutiny at a debate.
With no Democrat running, the winner of the Aug. 12 primary will be district attorney for the next four years.