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Veteran Investigator to Lead Industrial Lobby

September 19, 1985|VIRGINIA ESCALANTE | Times Staff Writer

COMMERCE — Joe B. Medina, a former investigator who worked on a case that resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials, has been hired as general manager of the Commerce Industrial Council.

Medina was the key investigator for the district attorney's probe of the 1973 Commerce scandal involving then-Mayor Maurice Quigley and former City Administrator Lawrence O'Rourke. Both were convicted of soliciting a bribe and resigned. Quigley was fined $1,000. O'Rourke was sentenced to six months in jail.

T. H. Trask Jr., the industrial council president, said Medina was chosen as general manager because he is respected and well known as a result of that investigation. Neither the council nor Medina would discuss his salary.

Trask said the industrial council thought Medina would provide a stabilizing force in the city, which has been in turmoil as a result of a federal investigation into racketeering at a Commerce card club. In April, three councilmen were sentenced to prison after conviction on federal charges, including mail fraud and accepting hidden shares in the California Commerce Club.

Medina "was chosen because we felt that he could be a constructive force," Trask said, adding that Medina is bilingual in a predominantly Latino city.

Before landing the Industrial Council job in June, Medina had a long career in law enforcement.

Medina worked for two years in the trial counsel's office of the State Bar of California, investigating attorneys suspected of violations of law or the professional code of conduct.

For 15 years before that he was with the district attorney's special investigations division investigating corruption among law enforcement, public officials and public employees.

Medina's contacts with law enforcement, city officials and businesses will make him "a good liaison between the city and industry," which depend on one another, said Betty Digua, treasurer of the council.

Lobbyist for Industry

The council was instrumental in the city's 1960 incorporation and represents 450 of its 1,500 businesses. Now, as the number of businesses here grow, the council is strengthening its role as industry's lobbyist.

This city is a magnet for industry because it levies no property tax. During its 25 years of incorporation, Commerce has reaped $156.8 million in sales taxes from the state, according to city statistics. The city has an assessed valuation of more than $1.45 billion and had taxable sales exceeding $1 billion in the last fiscal year. About 11,000 people live in Commerce and about 75,000 to 85,000 work there.

With that kind of profile, the industrial council plays an aggressive role, offering the "same things the Chamber of Commerce does in other cities," Medina said, but "we do a little more."

Part of his job, for example, is to keep the organization abreast of regulations or government actions that could affect industry.

In August, Medina told the council that the district attorney's office had created an occupational safety unit which would investigate industrial deaths with an eye to prosecuting the owners of these businesses for murder or manslaughter. But some members of the council ignored the warning, Medina said. Coincidentally, the first fatality to be investigated by the unit occurred in Commerce Sept. 12.

Skull Crushed by Beam

The victim, a man in his early 20s, was disassembling a beam for the Bowden Drilling Co. when he fell. The beam also fell, crushing his skull, said Jan Chatten-Brown, a special assistant district attorney for the occupational safety unit.

"I hate to hear that happened," Medina said Tuesday. "Now maybe those people who took this question kind of lightly will reconsider."

Another issue that drew the attention of the industrial council was a proposed amendment to the city's general plan calling for the designation as residential of a 14.67-acre parcel at Gage and Garfield avenues. That would have been the step prior to rezoning the property, the only substantial piece of vacant land in Commerce.

The council successfully opposed the amendment at a public hearing Tuesday when the Planning Commission rejected the measure 5 to 2. The property owners also favored keeping the industrial designation.

Dressed in a gray suit, Medina, 61, was soft-spoken during an interview in his office in the Bank of America Building at Eastern and Slauson avenues.

Six feet, 3 inches tall, Medina weighs 215 pounds and has chiseled features and an authoritative and dignified manner.

As an investigator, Medina was "compassionate," said Michael Gerner, senior trial counsel for the State Bar and Medina's former supervisor.

In his investigations of lawyers in trouble, Medina would highlight their struggles with marital problems or alcohol and drug abuse, "not as a defense" but to describe the mitigating factors, Gerner said.

'Easy Fellow to Like'

"Joe is an easy fellow to like and that makes an investigation much easier," Gerner said. "People are willing to talk" to him.

Bruce Campbell, who was Medina's supervisor and worked with him for 5 1/2 years in the district attorney's office, echoed Gerner.

Medina "in a matter of minutes would establish relationships with people from whom information was needed," Campbell said. "He had the single attribute of a prime detective--a person to whom others are willing to give information or even confide in."

Medina, who lives in Lomita, is a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific. He joined the Los Angeles Police Department after the war, serving in the burglary and auto theft division from 1947 to 1967, said a spokesman for the police department.

He received his law degree from Pacific Coast College in Long Beach in 1955.

Medina entered law enforcement because "that's where the action is," he said, adding that he feels the same way about the industrial council.

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