The prosecutor in San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock's felony retrial charged Monday that the former publicist for J. David & Co. was "a bag man" in an alleged conspiracy to funnel illegal contributions to Hedgecock's successful 1983 race.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Wickersham's allegations about former J. David public affairs director George Mitrovich--a departure from prosecution tactics in the mayor's first trial--prompted an angry response from Hedgecock's attorney, Oscar Goodman, who labeled Wickersham's comments "a cheap shot" that not only unfairly "besmirched" Mitrovich's reputation but also could "put (the defense) at a tremendous disadvantage."
Wickersham emphasized that he is not seeking to have Mitrovich "formally declared" as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case; he simply wants to pursue a "theory of evidence" that, if allowed by Superior Court Judge William L. Todd Jr., could permit the prosecutor to delve more deeply into Mitrovich's purported role in the alleged conspiracy.
Goodman, however, described Wickersham's request as an improper "attempt to amend the case" after the trial has already started, adding that doing so would force the defense to change its strategy for the case. In short, Goodman accused Wickersham of trying to change the rules after the game began.
Mitrovich himself later said he was "stunned" by Wickersham's comments, calling them "11th-hour charges (that are) without foundation . . . and outrageously unfair."
"How tragic that for tactical advantage a prosecutor should smear someone's name who is not the subject of the prosecution," said Mitrovich, a political activist who founded and heads the San Diego City Club.
Calling the legal question of whether Mitrovich should be treated as an alleged co-conspirator "a significant matter," Todd delayed a ruling on the issue until today. The judge's decision conceivably could expand or limit Wickersham's inquiries about activities that the prosecution claims were part of a scheme in which Hedgecock allegedly conspired with former J. David principals J. David (Jerry) Dominelli and Nancy Hoover to funnel tens of thousands of dollars in illegal donations to Hedgecock's 1983 campaign through a political consulting firm owned by Tom Shepard, a close friend of the mayor.
Wickersham's suggestion that Mitrovich participated in the alleged conspiracy to use Tom Shepard & Associates as a mechanism to circumvent the city's $250-per-person campaign contribution limit, came during the second day of testimony in Hedgecock's retrial on felony conspiracy and perjury charges. The mayor's first trial ended in February in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction.
With jurors excused from the courtroom, Wickersham told Todd Monday that evidence in the case "will establish in a strong way that George Mitrovich was a member of the conspiracy."
Mitrovich was involved in many of the crucial activities that the prosecution characterizes as circumstantial evidence of the alleged conspiracy, Wickersham said. For example, Alfred O'Brien, the former president of J. David Mercantile, testified last week that Mitrovich told Hedgecock in late 1981 that he "ought to smoke the peace pipe" with Hoover--who had embittered Hedgecock by leaving her husband to live with Dominelli--if he hoped to become mayor. The subsequent reconciliation between Hoover and Hedgecock, prosecutors charge, was one of the cornerstones of the alleged conspiracy.
In addition, Wickersham noted that Mitrovich:
- Helped fill five tables at a Hedgecock fund-raiser in February, 1983.
- Organized a lavish May, 1983, party celebrating Hedgecock's election as mayor. The party was sponsored by the City Club but paid for by J. David.
- Wrote a letter to Dominelli and Hoover warning that J. David's underwriting of Shepard's firm and Newsline, an alternative local weekly newspaper that was strongly critical of Hedgecock's 1983 opponent, former San Diego City Councilwoman Maureen F. O'Connor, could seriously damage the firm's reputation.
- Drafted a letter, later signed by Hedgecock, that recommended that the J. David firm be admitted to the London International Financial Futures Exchange. The letter, which said that the La Jolla investment firm "has established a remarkable reputation here in San Diego for both its financial success and also for its extraordinary commitment to the betterment of our community," is cited by prosecutors as evidence of Hedgecock's gratitude for Hoover's and Dominelli's alleged illegal campaign aid.
"Mitrovich . . . was a facilitator, a bag man between Nancy Hoover and Jerry Dominelli and Roger Hedgecock," Wickersham said. "His state of mind is an issue. It is highly relevant."