MONTEBELLO — A small group of developers and businessmen spent nearly $15,000 on a potent mail blitz in the days before the November election to help defeat former Councilman William M. Molinari and former Treasurer Thomas C. Wong.
All told, the group called Concerned Citizens for Honesty in Government and its individual members spent more than $22,000 to defeat the two incumbents and to support three successful candidates, campaign statements filed last week showed.
The mailers left the Molinari and Wong campaigns reeling before the Nov. 3 election, with allegations of excessive spending and mismanagement of public money. The campaign disclosure statement that Concerned Citizens filed last week also had Molinari fuming.
Molinari said he was attacked because he opposed developments supported by members of the political action committee.
"It's my feeling that these people have very severely disrupted the democratic process in this community," Molinari said in a recent interview. "It certainly has to be considered a major factor in my defeat."
The organizer of Concerned Citizens, Montebello developer Michael Minasian, countered that the group's barrage was a justifiable exercise of its First Amendment right to speak out against two incumbents who were not doing their jobs.
"I think they were unqualified to hold public office," Minasian said in an interview. "A lot of the people in the city were not happy with him. What else can you say? Just tell him better luck next time."
Among the five candidates vying for two council seats, incumbent Art Payan spent the most--$51,344--to retain his seat, the statements indicated. Molinari, who took office in 1982 and lost his seat after one term, spent $38,801. Newly elected Councilwoman Kathy Salazar spent $16,284, and candidate Art Rangel spent $10,540 in his unsuccessful election bid.
In the race for treasurer, Phillip M. Ramos spent $26,265 to beat incumbent Wong, who spent $10,888 seeking reelection to what would have been his second term. Ramos is a former Montebello councilman.
Nick Valdez, another candidate for treasurer, did not file a detailed campaign statement because he spent less than $500, a spokesman said.
Minasian provided $3,600 in contributions and loans to fuel the attack by Concerned Citizens. Other contributors were:
David Perrin, president of the Vorado Corp. of Santa Ana, and Quiet Cannon Inc. of Montebello, $950.
K.L. (Bucky) Dennis, president of KLD Management of Santa Ana and Perrin's business associate, $4,458.
Phillip Pace, a Montebello developer who heads Pace Development Co., $4,301.
The first salvo in the attack came last Oct. 19 when Minasian sent a letter to the Los Angeles County district attorney requesting an investigation of the Molinari campaign.
Minasian accused Molinari of a number of improprieties, including failing to accurately report campaign expenditures. The allegations were reported by the press and carried in Concerned Citizens' mailers, which underscored that "even the district attorney has been asked to investigate Councilman Molinari" for violations of state law.
The district attorney's office forwarded the complaint to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which found no basis for further investigation of the allegations.
"It gave people the impression I was guilty of some wrongdoing without having any basis whatsoever," Molinari said. "The allegations were totally false and the only purpose of them was to smear me . . . "
Minasian rejected the FPPC's conclusion, but said he would not pursue the matter any further because Molinari lost his seat on the council.
"It's water under the bridge," Minasian said. "It doesn't bother me now."
The mailers by Concerned Citizens accused Molinari of excessively spending taxpayer money on trips, campaign reporting violations and other allegations that Molinari says are false.
The mailers accused Wong of costing the city $4.4 million in bad investments in 1984. Wong, who was elected in 1982, has blamed the council for the loss, saying it decided to sell too quickly when the value of the securities plummeted.
Concerned Citizens also attacked Wong's claim that he was a certified public accountant. A spokeswoman for the state Board of Accountancy said at the time that Wong had passed the state accounting exam but had not been certified. Wong had still not been certified last week, a spokeswoman said.
"Wong was claiming all along he was a CPA and he wasn't a CPA," Minasian said. "He was lying."
Before the election, Wong apologized and admitted he had boasted prematurely. Wong, who has since left his job at a Santa Monica accounting firm and now works for a Phoenix, Ariz., company, did not return calls for comment last week.
Minasian said he also opposed Molinari and Wong for what he called "grand-standing" that divided the City Council and the community.