COMPTON — Compelled by a judge's order, Mayor Walter R. Tucker appeared in a Pasadena courtroom last December and was questioned about his personal finances because a loan he had co-signed for his wife was $15,000 in arrears.
It was the first time the mayor had been called to answer for such a debt--but not the first time his wife Martha had been taken to court for owing money. In 1986 alone, $49,320 in judgments and more than $1.5 million in lawsuits were filed against her, as an individual or as president of a real estate firm that the mayor owned.
In January, when the mayor persuaded his City Council colleagues to grant him an unprecedented $36,000 raise--boosting his salary for part-time service from $14,400 to $50,400 a year--he justified it by arguing that he is overworked as the city's most prominent public official.
But last week he declined to discuss whether the financial claims against his wife and firm were also a factor in his request.
"Since this is a legal matter like you say," the 62-year-old Tucker told a reporter, "I'm not going to say anything. . . . I'm just going to pray for you, and me, too."
For two decades, the Tuckers have been among this city's leading citizens, active in politics, cultural affairs and the business community.
Antiques, Furs, Furniture
On a 1983 loan application, he reported drawing $125,000 annually as a dentist, and she reported earning $84,000 per year as president of the real estate firm, Mattco Financial Inc. They set the value of their Compton house at $350,000, claimed $150,000 in "antiques, furs (and) furniture," plus thousands of dollars in stocks, insurance and savings that considerably exceeded their liabilities.
However, judging from civil and criminal records in several Los Angeles County courts, the first family's fortunes have recently taken a turn for the worse:
On Jan. 13, Tucker's wife and sister-in-law, Barbara Hall, were arrested on suspicion of defrauding a wheelchair-bound Long Beach man out of $45,000. They are each charged with two felony counts of grand theft and five felony counts of forging documents in transactions at Mattco. If convicted, they face up to seven years in state prison. They will be arraigned on Feb. 20.
In 1986, at least five lawsuits were filed against Tucker's wife based on other business dealings at Mattco. And in a sixth suit, a finance company promoted through the National Assn. for Female Executives accused her of defaulting on a $25,000, 18% interest loan. She obtained the money in 1983, agreeing to repay it over the maximum term of 60 months. When the suit was filed, she had returned only $9,944.
The mayor was also named in that case because he co-signed the note. A judgment for $15,725 was obtained by the finance company. But some of that debt was apparently paid after the mayor and his wife were ordered to the Pasadena court as the first step in a process that could have resulted in seizure of some of their assets to make good on the money owed.
Attorney Walter R. Tucker III, one of the family's four grown children, is defending his mother in several legal cases. But he has had troubles of his own. Last summer, a bank obtained an $8,921 judgment after claiming that he defaulted on a Gold MasterCard promoted through the Georgetown University Alumni Assn. (The lawyer obtained a degree from Georgetown in 1981.)
Just as the bank began to garnish some of the wages he earned as a third-year prosecutor with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, the younger Tucker was fired for allegedly lying to a judge about evidence in a narcotics case and falsifying records in an attempted cover-up.
In a Dec. 19 dismissal notice, Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gilbert Garcetti declared that Tucker's actions constituted "prosecutorial misconduct" and "demonstrate a lack of integrity clearly incompatible with the responsibilities entrusted to a prosecutor. . . . " Lawyers say that Tucker's alleged conduct didn't affect the outcome of the narcotics case.
Attorney Tucker, who has appealed his dismissal to the county Civil Service Commission, did not return telephone calls seeking his comment last week. Because he is at odds with his former employer while also representing his mother in the criminal case, the district attorney stepped aside and got the state attorney general to conduct the prosecution against Martha Tucker and her sister, Barbara Hall.
Telephone calls seeking comment from Martha Tucker and her sister Barbara Hall, who worked at Mattco, also went unreturned.
A 51-year-old native of Gary, Ind., Martha Tucker attended Fisk University in Nashville, and California State University, Los Angeles majoring in English and drama. She married her husband in 1955, the same year he graduated from the dental school at Meharry Medical College, across the street from Fisk.