Moorpark Mayor Thomas C. (Bud) Ferguson on Wednesday denied an allegation that he made an illegal campaign contribution to a local legislator and said he has sympathy for a former City Council colleague who has accused him of political corruption.
In a press conference at the Ventura County Hall of Justice, Ferguson also repeated his denial of accusations by former Councilman Danny Woolard that he tried to influence Woolard's vote by loaning him as much as $30,000 over the last 18 months.
The 67-year-old mayor, accompanied by his attorney, said he never gave Woolard $500 to contribute to a 1985 congressional campaign of state Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks). Woolard, who resigned from office last week after pleading guilty in federal court to stealing $5,500 from the post office where he worked, said he made the contribution at Ferguson's request.
The contribution would have been illegal because Ferguson had already contributed the maximum allowable amount of $1,000 to McClintock's campaign. Besides, federal law prohibits campaign contributions in the name of another person.
McClintock said Tuesday that he has sought the advice of the Federal Elections Commission to settle the issue and will give the money back if Woolard stands by his allegation.
Woolard's statement that he helped make an illegal campaign contribution is the latest in a series of allegations of political corruption he has made since he admitted embezzling money from the Moorpark Post Office to pay for cocaine.
'Feelings of Empathy'
Ferguson, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, said Wednesday that he would "not speculate on Mr. Woolard's motivation" for accusing him of improprieties. But Ferguson added that he has "strong feelings of empathy and sympathy" for Woolard and his family.
"I don't intend to disparage Mr. Woolard or to add any additional anguish to him or his family," Ferguson said.
Woolard showed up at the press conference Wednesday and sat silently through Ferguson's comments. Afterward the two men did not speak to each other.
Both have said they became friends after their election to City Council in 1984. Ferguson was appointed interim mayor last May to replace James Weak, who resigned because of illness, and was elected by his council colleagues to a regular one-year term as mayor.
Woolard said Wednesday that he has leveled the allegations against Ferguson in "the interests of justice," but he conceded that he hopes the information he gave authorities will mean a lighter sentence for him for his embezzlement conviction. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his sentencing Feb. 23.
At the press conference, Ferguson provided copies of documents showing that he had loaned Woolard $10,000 over the last 18 months. He said the loans were made out of friendship to cover what he thought were Woolard's gambling debts, and not to influence Woolard's vote.
"I categorically deny that I gave that money with any strings attached," Ferguson said. "It was done as a personal favor."
Ferguson said Woolard has paid back only $290 of the money. Woolard has said he returned none of the money.
Ferguson said he has made similar interest-free loans to as many as 20 other Moorpark residents over the last several years for emergencies such as hospital bills. Ferguson said he did not know how much the loans totaled, or how much of the money had been repaid. Woolard was the only city official to whom he loaned money, he said.
Retired 2 Years Ago
A former machine-shop owner who retired two years ago, Ferguson would not reveal the current source of his income or explain how he could afford to make the loans.
He said he rents his home--a Spanish-style villa on 11 acres overlooking Moorpark--from Butler Industries Inc. of Valencia, a parts-manufacturing firm where he once worked as a consultant.
After Ferguson left the press conference, Woolard repeated his charge that Ferguson loaned him $15,000 to $30,000 since 1985 to gain influence over his council vote. He would not say which votes were affected by Ferguson's loans, but said he spent the cash on gambling and cocaine.
Woolard said Tuesday that he spent most of the day being questioned by investigators from Ventura County district attorney's office.
Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury acknowledged that his office is investigating "allegations of public corruption and official misconduct" in Moorpark but would not elaborate.