CARSON — Statements obtained by prosecutors from convicted political fixer W. Patrick Moriarty and his former associate make a "strong case" against indicted Councilman Walter J. (Jake) Egan, the councilman's attorney acknowledged in an interview this week.
Attorney Robert B. Gaunt said that evidence supplied by the U.S. attorney's office includes statements from Moriarty and his associate Richard Raymond Keith that they believe Egan engaged in a shakedown in which he traded his political influence for campaign contributions.
"I think that's the way they looked at it, but that isn't the way Jake looked at it," Gaunt said.
Egan, who is to be tried June 24 on charges of mail fraud and interference with commerce by extortion, was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 24. The indictment accuses him of accepting unlawful campaign contributions from Moriarty in exchange for his support of Moriarty's plan to build a multimillion-dollar development on a 160-acre Carson landfill.
Egan pleaded innocent last week to all charges contained in the 11-count indictment. It also accuses him of soliciting money from Moriarty to create a political action committee that launched a secret campaign in 1981 to elect a council member who would support Moriarty's project.
That campaign, which helped elect Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt, was fueled by $30,000 from Moriarty and Keith, according to public records and interviews with Moriarty and Keith. Ultimately, it was executed through three political action committees run by Studio City political consultant Arthur Forcier, campaign records show.
DeWitt has said that she was unaware of the campaign in her behalf.
Moriarty and Keith's statements to investigators are the most damaging evidence against Egan, Gaunt said in the interview.
"There are statements from Moriarty and Keith saying that they gave Egan money," he explained. "Keith and/or Moriarty said they felt Egan had promised them his vote if they would do this."
Sentenced to Prison
Both Moriarty and Keith, who have been sentenced to federal prison on charges stemming from a broad probe of political corruption, have been cooperating with investigators.
"There is going to be an issue of credibility because Moriarty and Keith are convicted felons, but it's going to be a tough trial," Gaunt predicted. "They have a strong case. We're not taking this lightly at all."
Egan maintains that he made no promises to Moriarty or Keith, did not use any of their money for himself and did nothing illegal, Gaunt said. The attorney said Egan was only a courier, and only for some of the allegedly illegal political contributions from Moriarty and Keith.
But a central issue in the trial may be Egan's intent in helping Moriarty and Keith, Gaunt acknowledged.
"Part of the problem here is that certain things are implied," Gaunt said. "Here are these guys who are political wheeler-dealers. . . . In their view, the money was put out to achieve their political ends. They felt it was a shakedown, and that implies it was bribery or a payoff."
That was not what Egan had in mind, Gaunt said.
Egan only assisted Moriarty and Keith because he favored their proposed development and believed it in Carson's best interest to help them pursue it, Gaunt asserted. He did not treat Moriarty differently from any other developer whose project he favored, the attorney said.
"We don't deny that Jake had contact with Moriarty and Keith," he said. "What we're saying is that Jake tried to accommodate Moriarty and Keith and put them in touch with Forcier, who ostensibly was an expert in these kind of things . . . but all of the sudden he looks like he's the central figure in a conspiracy to defraud the city of Carson."
Gaunt said he plans to defend Egan, in part, by showing first that Moriarty attempted to corrupt politicians in numerous municipalities throughout the state. While Moriarty may have thought Egan would be part of such a plan, Egan was unaware of Moriarty's motives or actions in other cities, Gaunt said.
"I want to show that that was (Moriarty's) way of operating and that when another (politician) came along, he thought he could do the same thing," Gaunt said. "The thinking he had might have been that he could buy his way into this, but that wasn't the thinking that Egan had."
The indictment, however, charges that Egan himself engineered what it calls "a scheme" to conceal campaign activities and special-interest influences arising from his relationship with Moriarty. It alleges, among other things, that Egan failed to disclose on campaign statements his participation in Moriarty-backed campaign committees and that he agreed to provide Moriarty and Keith with information from City Council executive sessions.