CARSON — When Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt filed personal and corporate bankruptcy actions in 1984, she failed to disclose campaign contributions made on her behalf by two companies in which she held an interest, public records show.
A comparison of DeWitt's filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court and her state-required campaign disclosure reports shows that she did not reveal in the bankruptcy documents $7,804 in political contributions that her companies made toward her successful council race in April, 1984.
DeWitt declined to comment specifically on the discrepancies between her federal and state filings. DeWitt, who bills herself as a fiscal watchdog on the Carson council, called The Times' query into her bankruptcy actions--which are not widely known about in the city--a "personal attack" unrelated to her performance as a public official.
In a brief written response to questions from The Times, the councilwoman acknowledged the political expenditures by her businesses, which are legal under state law. She said they were in-kind contributions of materials and services.
The bankruptcy forms, however, call for the disclosure of "personal withdrawals of any kind."
"You're supposed to disclose everything that could have even a slight bearing on this," said Kenneth N. Klee, an attorney who practices bankruptcy law and teaches at UCLA Law School.
Specifically, on her personal bankruptcy petition, DeWitt reported only that one of her former companies, R & R Total Instant Printing, had given her $2,000 and she did not list any reason. In a corporate bankruptcy petition filed for Posse Police Products Inc., for which DeWitt was the chief stockholder, DeWitt only listed taking about $1,000 in expense reimbursements.
On campaign disclosure reports, however, DeWitt said her businesses contributed $7,804 to her election campaign. R & R contributed $4,704 in campaign printing materials during the time in question, and Posse contributed $100 in cash and $3,000 in "professional consulting services," according to reports DeWitt filed. The reports did not say who performed the services.
The bankruptcy records indicate that as DeWitt successfully campaigned for her first full term in office in 1984 to become part of a council majority bloc whose major election issue was "fiscal responsibility," she and her two small businesses were on the brink of financial disaster.
Just 10 days after DeWitt took office in April, 1984, she filed a petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code, which gives an individual or a company protection from creditors while reorganizing assets and debts. The action included her and R & R Printing, a Long Beach-based company that she owned.
About a month later, DeWitt filed a corporate petition under Chapter 11 for her second company, Posse Police Products Inc., which manufactured law-enforcement accessories in Long Beach. At the time, she was the only officer and chief stockholder in the firm, holding 75% interest, according to her filings. Her ex-husband, F. Carlos DeWitt, held a 25% interest, according to the records.
Papers filed by the company when it was incorporated listed F. Carlos DeWitt as chief stockholder and president. In her written statement to The Times, Vera DeWitt said she was not in control of the company until it was too late to save it.
Several months after DeWitt filed the Chapter 11 petitions, federal court officials decided that the councilwoman's corporate and personal estates should be dissolved rather than just reorganized. Such determinations are commonly made when a petitioner's liabilities greatly exceed assets.
According to her bankruptcy documents, DeWitt consented to the dissolution, which, in legal terms, converted the Chapter 11 reorganization proceedings into Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. Later, according to bankruptcy records, both of DeWitt's bankruptcies were deemed "no-asset" cases--that is, that all valuables either were indebted beyond their worth or were negligible.
In late 1984, bankruptcy records show, the city of Long Beach was told that DeWitt's manufacturing company was so broke it could not pay the $72 it owed for gas service. In DeWitt's personal bankruptcy, Bank of America's Mastercard officials were told DeWitt could not cover her $350 balance. And a Carson electrician was informed of DeWitt's inability to pay her printing company's $260 bill.
Few Were Paid
In fact, few of the the councilwoman's 109 personal and corporate creditors--including several government agencies and numerous private businesses with a combined total of more than $550,000 in claims--saw a nickel of their money, according to records. Debts ranged from $21 for a subscription to Inc. magazine to a $114,000 business loan from the Government Funding Corp., a private lending company that deals exclusively with government-guaranteed loans.