SACRAMENTO — A convicted drug dealer, described by law enforcement officials as a major supplier of chemicals to illegal drug producers, hired a lobbyist last year to persuade state legislators to delay imposing new controls on chemicals used to make methamphetamine, or speed, public records show.
Robert J. Miskinis, reputed to be San Diego County's biggest supplier of the drug-making chemicals, got lawmakers to agree last summer to hold off the controls for six months--until Oct. 1 of this year--through the efforts of J. Michael Allen, a veteran Sacramento lobbyist.
However, follow-up legislation that makes the controls effective sooner was passed this week, after Miskinis' role in the matter became known.
Allen, in an interview with The Times, said he was unaware of his client's criminal record when he was hired to represent him before the Legislature last year. Allen said he probably would not have represented Miskinis and his San Diego-area firm, RJM Laboratories Inc., if he had known Miskinis had been convicted of felony methamphetamine trafficking.
Allen said he also was unaware until recent news reports that Miskinis and his firm have long been the subject of surveillance and investigation by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents in San Diego. He said he did not know that Miskinis was considered the major supplier of chemicals to illegal drug producers in San Diego County, which is often referred to as the "methamphetamine capital of the world" because of its many illicit drug labs.
"I've never been in this situation before and I hope I never am again," Allen said in an interview. "In all likelihood, I would not have represented him unless he had a very good argument for why I should."
Neither Miskinis nor his attorney, Jon Chester of San Diego, could be reached for comment.
Records filed with the secretary of state's office here show that RJM Laboratories paid $22,400 in lobbying fees to Allen, who won a six-month delay in implementation of strict new reporting requirements on the kind of chemicals sold by RJM.
Gov. George Deukmejian on Tuesday signed a bill wiping out the delay. The new bill reinstated April 1 as the date on which sellers of the chemical ephedrine and three other similar compounds must begin reporting their transactions to the state Justice Department. The chemicals are used lawfully for many products, including decongestants, but are also the major ingredient in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, or speed.
Miskinis' firm did not oppose the bill Deukmejian signed this week. But last July, as a bill by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) was moving its way through the Legislature, the firm's attorney, Chester, contacted Allen and asked for his help in amending the measure, Allen said.
"They came to us, and the indication was they were a chemical retail house that sold everything from Janitor in a Drum to whatever," Allen said.
Allen said Chester told him that RJM sold only chemicals that were not on any lists of restricted substances. He said the firm had large inventories of the chemical ephedrine and would be stuck with the chemicals if Katz's bill passed as it was written.
"They bought it and were selling it and it was perfectly legal," Allen said. "When it came down to the point where a lot of reporting and whatnot would be required, they did not want to deal with it. That appeared to be a perfectly rational position to have."
Allen said RJM's attorney never told him of Miskinis' criminal record, and Allen said he did not try to hide the fact that he represented the firm. If there was any confusion, Allen said, his connection to RJM was listed in public records filed with the secretary of state's office on July 29.
"I have a lot of clients, and when they come in here, I do not do background checks on them," said Allen, a veteran of 20 years in Sacramento who lobbied for San Diego County and the California Medical Assn. before opening his own firm.
Allen said he approached Katz late last summer on behalf of RJM and asked for a one-year delay in the implementation of the rules on ephedrine. Katz turned him down and told him he was carrying the bill at the request of the state attorney general's office. Allen then turned to Randy Rossi, who was then a lobbyist for the attorney general, and Allen Sumner, head of the office's legislative unit.
Sumner and Rossi, like Katz, said that at the time they thought Allen represented several chemical firms that had a general concern about the effect of the regulations.
"In our discussion, we said 'well, we've got a bill moving through; if we take the amendment, we've got a law on the books. Are a few months going to make that much difference?' " Sumner said. "It was a plausible story. It was a reasonable request. . . . We would not have made that move had we known who was actually proposing the amendments."
OKd by Both Houses