COMPTON — A $350 videocassette recorder, a $200 pair of cowboy boots, seven shirts, a couple of jogging suits and baskets of fresh fruit timed to arrive in season.
All have been gifts to Mayor Walter R. Tucker, some from firms that have millions of dollars in dealings with City Hall.
Over the past two years, the popular 62-year-old mayor has accepted free food, clothing and shelter valued at $4,538, according to his state-required financial disclosure reports.
If at least one of the gifts is as valuable as Tucker has reported, he may have violated the law by casting his City Council vote despite an apparent conflict-of-interest, according to officials with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Two other council members may also have erred by accepting a gift and not reporting it.
Tucker failed to return repeated calls for comment over the past two weeks.
The mayor's disclosure forms list a variety of gifts, the largest being a $3,000 trip to the Middle East last May, with air fare and hotel accommodations paid by the Assn. of Arab-American University Graduates. The educational organization regularly invites American mayors on such trips to expose them to the Arab world, a spokesman said. Tucker accompanied Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell and three mayors from Minnesota, New York and Florida.
The smallest gift was a $48 box of wine from the "Deutch family." Naftali Deutch is a developer of the $30-million Alameda Plaza Hotel being built beside the 91 Freeway with financing from city bonds. Deutch did not return calls seeking to confirm that the gift came from him.
"Six bottles of spirits" valued at $70 came from John Mgrdichian, president of Murcole Inc., which holds an exclusive contract to collect the city's residential trash.
The cowboy boots were courtesy of Kosti Shirvanian, president of Western Waste Industries, which has another city contract for hauling commercial and industrial trash. The video recorder was given by B.J.'s Fashion Center. And the shirts and jogging suits from Los Angeles importer Mike Alemzadeh.
On his most recent form, Tucker said he received $300 worth of "perishable fruit" during the year from William Dawson and his wife, Sonja, who serve respectively as chairman and president of the city's largest home developer, AFCOM.
The state Political Reform Act requires that officials disclose any "gift totaling $50 or more in a calendar year." It also makes it illegal for an official to use his "position to influence a government decision" within 12 months of accepting one or more gifts that total at least $250. Violations open the official to a $2,000 fine as well as civil prosecution for up to three times the gifts' value.
City Council minutes, however, show that Tucker voted on three occasions within that 12-month period to allow AFCOM to essentially take over the troubled--yet valuable--Hub City Urban Development town house project that was millions of dollars in debt to the city and the federal government. The votes occurred on May 6, June 24 and Nov. 4, city records show. And each time, the council measures were approved.
Jeanette Turvill, a spokesman for the political practices commission in Sacramento, said last week that Tucker may have violated the conflict-of-interest provision. "What you're describing to me," she said, "doesn't sound like it would be exempted."
Dawson confirmed in a recent interview that he has sent Tucker fruit baskets over the past few years, but said their value was more like $100 rather than $300.
"That's a Harry & David Christmas deal," Dawson said, explaining that Tucker receives about eight shipments over the year as various fruits come in season. "It's a real nice gift. We do it in preference to a bottle of whiskey."
Dawson said in recent years that he has also given the same gift, as a good-will gesture, to "other members of the council." But he declined to identify them.
Councilman Floyd A. James did not return several calls seeking comment.
But Councilman Robert L. Adams acknowledged that he has received the AFCOM fruit baskets.
"Yes, every month I get a fruit box from AFCOM developers, it comes through the mail," Adams said. "I get gifts, a fifth of whiskey from some of them, nuts . . . I'm a friend to everyone. In fact, I give out gifts myself, I send out gifts to the ministry." Adams operates a Compton mortuary.
When asked why his most recent disclosure forms fail to show any gifts, from AFCOM or anyone else, Adams said that he leaves it to his son, Laurence--treasurer of the councilman's campaign committee--to complete his disclosure form.
Besides, Adams said, "I don't even get to eat (the fruit), I take it to the mortuary" where it is shared with his employees.
Fruit Gifts Not Solicited
Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins said she also has received AFCOM fruit shipments over the past two years. "It's not asked for," she emphasized. "I didn't even know he was sending it."
Robbins said she has not reported the fruit shipments because she believes the law only requires the disclosure of gifts worth more than $50 a month. "If you break it down monthly, it just isn't reportable," she said.