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Ex-Official Is Acquitted on Bribery Charges : Robinson Says He Will Sue D.A.

March 20, 1988|TERRY SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — Carl E. Robinson Sr., a former president of the Compton Community College Board of Trustees, said he plans to file suit against the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office for malicious prosecution after his acquittal on two bribery charges last week.

"Somebody has got to reimburse me the $60,000 that this has cost me in lost wages and legal fees," Robinson, 53, said in an interview Tuesday. He said he had to take several days off from his job with the postal service to prepare for the trial.

Robinson was found innocent by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury on Monday. He had been charged with soliciting and accepting $500 from West Covina accountant Rolland Boceta in return for a favorable vote on a $92,500 auditing contract that Boceta received from the college district.

Robinson was arrested March 21, 1985, moments after district attorney investigators videotaped him receiving the cash from Boceta in a restaurant parking lot. The day before, the college board had unanimously voted to award the contract to Boceta. Robinson has always insisted that the money was merely a lawful campaign contribution for an upcoming reelection bid, and that it had no effect on his vote.

'A Legitimate Supporter'

"There was never any question in my mind that (Boceta) was anything but a legitimate supporter," Robinson said. Both sides agreed that Boceta had made a legal $100 campaign contribution to Robinson just five months before.

Robinson lost his seat to James E. Carter by three votes in the November, 1985, election, and blames his arrest for the defeat. Shortly after the race, Robinson filed suit to have the result overturned, alleging that some absentee ballots had been improperly cast for Carter. A lower court ruled against him, but the case remains on appeal.

Robinson said he plans to run against Carter, either this year in a special election--if his appeal succeeds--or in November, 1989, in the regular college board election. Robinson finished a distant eighth in last November's race for a seat on the Compton Unified School District board.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Gray reacted to the verdict, saying: "We presented as good a case as was available to us to present, but the jury just decided against us."

The investigation of Robinson began a week before his arrest, when Boceta went to prosecutors and said that the college trustee had demanded money to make sure that the auditing contract was approved.

Investigators proceeded to tape record subsequent conversations between Robinson and Boceta. Boceta's telephone was wiretapped and he wore a hidden microphone when he met Robinson in person.

In a conversation recorded in the restaurant just before Robinson's arrest, Boceta and Robinson made small talk about the trustee's reelection campaign and how Robinson wanted to use his college post as a stepping stone to win a seat in the state Assembly, according to transcripts.

At one point, Robinson was quoted as telling Boceta: "I think it should be worth a grand, you know, to have someone like me around. . . . Because America runs on 'You help me; I help you.' That's the way America runs . . . from the White House all the way down."

But later in the conversation, Boceta directly asked whether he would have to give Robinson money in return for his continuing support.

"No, no, you don't have to," transcripts quote Robinson as saying. "I don't say you had to."

Robinson's attorney, Victor Salerno, said that jurors told him after the trial that they believed Robinson's testimony more than Boceta's, especially because there was no independent record of the conversation that led the accountant to initially contact the district attorney's office.

"What it boiled down to was the credibility of Mr. Robinson and Mr. Boceta," Salerno said. "The subsequent tapes were very ambiguous. . . . But you could see that Mr. Boceta was trying to lead (Robinson) down the garden path."

Prosecutor Gray speculated that the testimony of Robinson's character witnesses was the deciding factor in the outcome of the case. Gray admitted at the trial that the prosecution had no indication that Robinson had ever engaged in other allegedly illegal or unethical conduct.

Legrand Clegg II, a trustee of the college and chief deputy city attorney for Compton, testified on Robinson's behalf. In an interview this week, he said he was asked to comment on Robinson's integrity.

"I testified that he has a reputation of being honest and forthright," Clegg said.

'Pleased' With Outcome

As a Compton College trustee, Clegg said he is "very pleased" with the trial's outcome.

"He was a member of our board whose reputation was besmirched and that brought defamation to the institution," Clegg said. "His acquittal should free us from this stigma."

Gray said he was not surprised by Robinson's threat to sue, but said he does not think such a suit would be successful.

"I doubt that he would even get a court date," Gray said.

Salerno said that he is looking into the possibility of legal action at Robinson's request, but agrees with Gray's assessment that winning such a suit would be difficult.

Robinson said he is just glad that he now will be able to get on with his personal and political life.

"I feel like a whole ton has been lifted off my head," Robinson said.

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