A felony indictment alleging that Rep. Bobbi Fiedler and her chief political aide offered a $100,000 contribution to lure state Sen. Ed Davis out of the Republican U.S. Senate primary was based in part on a conversation secretly recorded by Davis' campaign manager during a visit to Fiedler's home, sources have told The Times.
A Jan. 12 meeting between Fiedler and her aide, Paul Clarke, and Davis' campaign manager, Martha Zilm, during which Zilm is said to have been wired for sound, climaxed a two-month investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and is believed to have led to Fiedler's indictment.
The sources said they were not privy to details of the conversation on Jan. 12.
Shortly after that meeting, Fiedler was told by investigators for the district attorney's office that she and Clarke were the subjects of a criminal investigation. Both were later invited to testify before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, but declined to appear. The grand jury returned a one-count indictment against them Thursday.
D.A. Fixes Sum at $100,000
The indictment, unsealed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, charges that Fiedler, 48, and Clarke, 39, attempted to persuade Davis, 69, to withdraw from the GOP Senate race by offering his campaign a contribution to retire past debts. A statement released by the district attorney's office fixed the amount of the proposed contribution at approximately $100,000.
Under the California Elections Code, anyone who pays or offers money to a candidate to secure his withdrawal from a political contest is guilty of a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison.
At a late-morning press conference that followed a brief appearance at the downtown Criminal Courts Building, Fiedler asserted that she and Clarke are victims of "ridiculous" charges and said they have done nothing wrong.
Clarke, who also appeared in court, added: "What you are witnessing is one of the greatest political dirty tricks of all time. . . . (We) wish we could give you the whole story now, but our attorneys have advised us against saying anything.
"I will say, however, that we have some very desperate politicians who are trying something that will end up backfiring on them while we go on with our campaign, and we will win the race for the United States Senate." Clarke refused to identify those politicians and both he and Fiedler declined to answer in detail questions about the allegations made against them.
In court Friday morning, attorneys for Fiedler and Clarke persuaded Judge Aurelio Munoz to postpone their formal arraignment until Monday. The judge allowed them to remain free without posting bail.
Fiedler, who was dressed in a dark skirt and blue jacket, and Clarke, who wore a dark charcoal suit, spoke only once in court, answering, "Yes," when Munoz asked if the indictment listed their true names.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Candace D. Beason, who presented the case to the grand jury, and her supervisor in the Special Investigations Division, Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven A. Sowders, refused Friday to discuss the evidence against Fiedler and Clarke.
However, some details of the events that led to the indictment emerged in accounts given to The Times by sources outside the district attorney's office who are familiar with the case.
The initial contact between the Fiedler and Davis campaigns occurred, one source said, early last November, when San Fernando Valley businessman Arthur S. Pfefferman, a Fiedler supporter wh1864397928Moss, a land developer and a Davis supporter.
According to this account, Pfefferman told Moss that he had heard rumors that Davis planned to withdraw from the Senate race, and asked Moss if he thought Davis might endorse Fiedler.
The source, who is familiar with Pfefferman's account of the conversation, said that Pfefferman suggested that Fiedler's organization might be willing to help Davis retire some of his campaign debt.
Moss is reported to have said he would contact the Davis organization and get back to Pfefferman.
Testified Before Jury
Moss and Pfefferman were among the seven witnesses who testified before the grand jury, a witness list attached to the indictment revealed. Pfefferman could not be reached for comment. Moss declined to talk. Pfefferman's attorney, Gerald Chaleff, also refused comment.
At a press conference Friday, Davis described the person who made the initial contact with his campaign organization as a previous contributor whom he trusted. He did not provide a name.
Later, in a televised interview, Davis said he had never considered dropping out of the Senate contest despite reports.
"Under no circumstances would anyone who is substantially in front in a race pull out of the race for any reason whatsoever. I cannot imagine anyone even conceiving of the idea that I would pull out of the race."