CARSON — In this city whose brief history has been marred by scandal, officials are hoping that the conviction last week of Councilman Walter J. (Jake) Egan on charges of mail fraud and extortion will close the current chapter.
The trial was not flattering to Carson.
The city--which has tried hard to change its image as a high-crime area pocked with refineries and former dumps--was the target of uncomplimentary courtroom testimony.
Relations on the five-member council were depicted by Egan's attorney as "a five-way dogfight" with his client snapping and snarling with the rest of the pack. The prosecutor portrayed Egan as a man bent on political domination, one who flooded the city with racist innuendo targeted against an opponent, a grasping extorter who demanded that developer W. Patrick Moriarty fund the candidate of his choice in return for support of a project.
Not First Scandal
And the whole affair brought the statewide notoriety of Moriarty, a convicted political fixer now serving a seven-year term for mail fraud involving bribery and kickbacks, right into the city limits, dwarfing two earlier scandals in the early and late 1970s, which stemmed from purely local issues. The scandal surrounding Moriarty, which is considered to be the worst political corruption case in California in 30 years, has resulted in a continuing federal probe, 11 indictments and the conviction of five public officials, including Egan.
Egan is the fourth member of the council to be convicted for corruption in office since the city was incorporated in 1968.
"We hope that it is all over now," said Mayor Pro Tem Thomas Mills.
"If it is, we can go back to doing business. If it is not, then we have to suffer along with it."
The conviction itself, said a ranking official, who did not wish to be identified, was anti-climactic for many city employees because the matter had dragged on so long. Employees who had kept up with news accounts of Egan's troubles were not surprised at the verdict, the official said, adding that "they felt he was going down."
Feeling of Relief
Another top official said the dominant emotion was "relief that that is over. There is a big question whether there will be more in the future."
The only one to find a positive aspect to the trial was Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt, whose 1981 campaign was aided by Moriarty-financed contributions directed at Egan's behest, according to testimony. Witnesses testified that DeWitt was not aware of the plan.
"In a way, I think it is a vindication of me," she said.
Egan will be removed automatically at sentencing, which is scheduled for Sept. 8, unless he resigns sooner.
Once a vacancy occurs, the council can appoint a replacement or hold a special election. If no action is taken within 30 days, state law requires that a special election be held. City Clerk Helen Kawagoe said the first available date would be March 3.
Mills said he favors a special election. "The citizens have indicated in the past that they like to have that opportunity," he said.
Some in City Hall worry that a half year with a four-member council could lead to municipal paralysis because of divisions on the council.
"There is some apprehension," the staffer said, "having a 2-2 split for some period of time."
The split refers to acknowledged political alignments between Mayor Sylvia Muise and Mills on one side and Councilwomen Kay Calas and DeWitt on the other.
But Mills and DeWitt said they expect that the potential for paralysis will lead to increased cooperation between the two groups.
"It has to be done," said DeWitt. "Otherwise I would think government would come to a screeching halt. I would like to see the polarization not continued."
The two said that compromise and accommodation, with Egan absent from several recent meetings, was already more pronounced than in the past.
"Although we have been philosophically polarized for some time," said Mills, "we work pretty much together. . . . A number of votes have gone 4 to 0. It doesn't mean that we always think alike but it does mean that we are trying to bring understanding to the problem."
While others ponder broad questions about the future of the city, the center of this municipal turbulence was couching his thoughts about the trial's aftermath in a more personal vein.
"I don't think what happened to me is in the best interests of anybody," Egan said. "It certainly did not, and will not, help the city. . . .
"I've had the opportunity to serve for six years and I worked very hard and I am not ashamed at anything I did. I try to look at the positive things, that is all. I still have a lot of friends and they still communicate. I have no regrets."
The other council members convicted of corruption in office are former Mayor John Junk and Rick Clark, who were sentenced to 90-day jail terms and fined $1,500 after pleading no contest on Sept. 7, 1971, to soliciting bribes from a trash disposal firm, and Dannie Spence, who was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,000 on Nov. 22, 1971, for soliciting a bribe in connection with a zoning matter. In October 1979, council members John A. Marbut and Sak Yamamoto were ousted in a recall election, following charges that a trash contract was awarded without public comment to a company that had not submitted the lowest bid.