HBO’s “True Detective” Spotlights California City’s Corrupt Past

After months of rumor and speculation, the creator of HBO’s hit series “True Detective” recently confirmed that the show’s second season is in fact based on the industrial city of Vernon, California. The new season, which premiered Sunday, is centered around a corrupt town called “Vinci” and dramatically recalls many of Vernon’s darker days.

Truth has often proved to be stranger than fiction in the small municipality just five miles south of downtown L.A. Vernon has been largely controlled by just two families for most of its existence, and widespread corruption allegations date back to at least the 1920s. The situation was so bad that, in 2011, state lawmakers pushed unsuccessfully for the city to disincorporate.

Among those ensnared in various corruption probes was former Vernon mayor Leonis Malburg who was convicted of voter fraud in 2009. In 2011, former administrator Bruce Malkenhorst pleaded guilty to the illegal use of public funds. That same year, city administrator Donal O’Callaghan also pleaded guilty to public corruption charges. Another city official, meanwhile, wound up dead in a bizarre accident just after the release of a scathing state audit of the city’s finances—a focus of the TV series.

Vernon officials are well aware of the connection, but they’re welcoming the publicity with open arms. The fact that many of the scenes were shot in Vernon is another silver lining for a city which hopes to keep film production in the L.A. area.

Nevertheless, Vernon spokesman Fred MacFarlane wants to remind viewers that the show is still fictional—and that times have changed.

“Even it were fact-based, the cable TV show would be a depiction of a Vernon that no longer exists,” MacFarlane said, referring to a series of reforms aimed at improving good governance in the city.

Read more about the inspiration for “True Detective” here.

Image Credit: Flickr User joebehr, https://flic.kr/p/a3p2kN via (CC BY-ND 2.0)


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