ROSEMEAD — Plans for a proposed housing project went awry last week when three City Council members said they were offered campaign contributions by the sister of the developer just days before they were to vote on the project.
City Atty. Robert Kress announced at Tuesday's council meeting that the three council members, none of whom has announced his intention to run again in an election that is 15 months away, were angered by the action and would abstain from voting on the project.
"This is an announcement to the world that we can't be bought, so if anyone has any ideas they can stay the hell out of Rosemead," Mayor Jay Imperial said in an interview Wednesday.
Not for Sale
According to a tape recording furnished by the city clerk, Councilman Robert Bruesch said at the meeting: "I have been compromised, and I am a public official, not here to be bought."
Imperial, Bruesch and Councilman Pat Cleveland said in interviews that they were surprised last weekend when Nina Kuo, a real estate broker who is working for her sister, Rose Wong, visited them unannounced at their homes.
When Imperial asked Wong at the meeting if she knew that her sister had visited the council members, she said she could not answer the question. Kuo, reached later by phone, said, "I have no comment at this moment."
Wong is trying to purchase just more than an acre at 8470 Mission Drive on which she wants to build 12 homes. The council had been scheduled to vote Tuesday on a zoning change needed before escrow can close.
After a two-hour public hearing on the proposal at Tuesday's meeting, Kress announced: "It is only fair to disclose that Mrs. Kuo, who is not here tonight, met individually with three members of the council seeking their approval and tendering a check to each member," according to the tape recording.
'Process Is Tainted'
"The members either rejected or returned the checks," Kress told the audience. "They indicate that the process is tainted and that while the project may have merit, these tactics cannot be tolerated."
Kress said that the abstentions would mean no action could be taken because of lack of a quorum, so the matter would automatically be tabled.
Bruesch and Cleveland said later that Kuo gave each of them an envelope containing a $1,000 check made out to their reelection committees.
Imperial said he returned the envelope Kuo gave him without opening it.
Bruesch said he contacted the district attorney's office in El Monte last Monday to report the incident and was told that he should contact the Sheriff's Department in Temple City, which provides law enforcement for Rosemead.
"The district attorney's office is following up on information that Bruesch submitted to our El Monte office, so I won't comment any further," said Steve Sowders, head deputy district attorney for the special investigations division.
He said that his office would coordinate with the Sheriff's Department any investigation that might grow out of the incident.
Capt. Doug McClure of the Sheriff's Department said he discussed the matter with Bruesch and City Manager Frank Tripepi on Monday.
The three decided, McClure said, that the most effective thing for the council to do would be to announce at Tuesday's meeting what had happened and that the three council members abstain from voting.
Fate Was Uncertain
It is unclear whether the council would have approved the project if the incident had not occurred. Bruesch and Cleveland said Wednesday that they were prepared to vote for the project, while Imperial said he would have voted against it.
The fourth councilman, Gary Taylor, who was not approached by Kuo, said, "I can't say how I would have voted if this hadn't happened."
The fifth council seat became vacant in October, when Louis Tury Jr. resigned after he pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks for defense contracts for his machine shop.
Wong planned to build 12 homes ranging from 1,470 to 1,800 square feet on 2,000-square-foot lots. The selling price was expected to be between $150,000 and $180,000.
Plea for Approval
The land is owned by James Richardson, a member of a longtime Rosemead family.
A family member had pleaded with the council at Tuesday's meeting for a speedy decision on the zoning change because, she said, the Richardsons needed money for medical expenses. The Richardsons would not comment when contacted by The Times.
Cleveland, Bruesch and Imperial said in interviews that when Kuo visited them, she first made an emotional appeal based on what she said was the financial plight of the Richardsons.
After mentioning campaign contributions, she attempted to hand each of them an envelope, they said.
In interviews, each council member said he recognized Kuo because she had attended council meetings at which the project was discussed.
Cleveland said Kuo came to his home on Jan. 9 and tried to convince him of the merits of the project. She then asked him how to make a campaign contribution, Cleveland said.