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Martinez, Chen Tangle Over Aide's 2 Jobs, Salaries

May 26, 1988|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Former Monterey Park Mayor Lily Chen, who is running against Rep. Matthew G. (Marty) Martinez (D-Monterey Park) in the June 7 Democratic primary, has accused the congressman of illegally hiring an alleged girlfriend for two government jobs with a combined salary of more than $72,000.

Martinez, 59, who is married but does not live with his wife, denounced the charges as "garbage" and said the aide, Maxine Grant, is legally employed as both his administrative assistant and as administrator of the subcommittee he chairs on employment opportunities.

Chen referred to Grant as the congressman's girlfriend in a statement distributed at a news conference Monday, but when asked for evidence to support that description, she said only that Grant is the congressman's "friend and she's a woman."

For details, Chen referred reporters to her research assistant, Ron Kuramoto, who said the relationship was described by current and former members of the congressman's staff and is well known in Washington. Martinez, who has represented the 30th Congressional District since 1982, called Chen "a sick woman."

'Absolutely Stupid'

He said he would not dignify Chen's remarks with a detailed response. "That's so much garbage, it's absolutely stupid," he said.

Asked whether she considers herself the congressman's girlfriend, Grant, who declined to give her age but described herself as "a young grandmother," said: "I've worked for the man for seven years. I'm a girl and a friend."

Grant conceded that she is paid well for her staff work.

"After 22 years in this business, I receive a nice salary, but I earn it," she said. "I put in 60 to 70 hours a week and there's a lot of weekends when I'm in the office."

Michael Murray, assistant counsel to the clerk of the House of Representatives, said that it is not illegal and, in fact, is common for a person to be employed by both a congressman and a subcommittee.

House Committee Rule

In accusing Martinez of hiring Grant illegally for two positions, Chen cited a House rule that says that individuals hired by a committee should work on committee business and "no other duties may be assigned to them." Chen interpreted that rule to mean that it is illegal for Grant to work as subcommittee administrator and also serve as administrative assistant to Martinez.

But Murray said Chen's interpretation is wrong. He said the rule prevents a person from working for a congressman directly while being paid exclusively from committee funds, but it does not apply to committee staff members who receive additional pay from a congressman. Grant last year received $47,379 for subcommittee work and $24,830 in salary as administrative assistant.

Chen also accused Martinez of neglecting his duties in the capital, citing an instance in which "he and his lady were photographed playing Keno" in Laughlin, Nev. Chen did not identify the woman as Grant but said "it was not his wife."

Gary Townsend, a spokesman for Martinez, said the congressman won $25,000 at Keno on New Year's Day, 1988, and the photograph, which appeared in a Laughlin newspaper, showed Martinez with the casino's night manager. Townsend said Martinez was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Vera, and that Grant was not present.

Wife's Letter of Support

Mrs. Martinez signed a letter that is being mailed to voters urging residents to vote for her husband, saying, "Matthew Martinez has always made our family proud." The letter was written before Chen made her charges.

In the statement that she read at Monday's news conference, Chen accused Martinez of using his car allowance to pay for a red Thunderbird for Grant. Noting that Martinez bills the government $900 a month for a car lease, Chen said the figure is so high that it must pay for more than one car, and that she assumed the second car was Grant's.

Martinez denied the allegation and said Chen "is out of her cotton-pickin' mind. That's an out-and-out lie." He said the lease payment is solely for his own car and is high because new regulations required him to shorten a four-year lease to two years.

Grant said her car is not a Thunderbird but a 1987 red Lincoln sports coupe, and that "I have the paper work to show that I'm making the payments."

Allegations Backed

Chen also charged that Grant spends little time in the office of the employment opportunities subcommittee. Martinez said the subcommittee office is so small that Grant does all her work at the congressional office, instead of maintaining two offices.

Some of Chen's allegations were supported by Bruce Packard, 33, a former legislative assistant for the employment opportunities subcommittee. One of Chen's aides suggested that reporters call Packard, who said he was fired by Martinez in March after working for the committee since January, 1986.

Packard said he accompanied Martinez, Grant and the subcommittee staff director to Hawaii last December and to Puerto Rico in 1986 on subcommittee trips, during which little work was accomplished.

Visiting Job Corps Site

Packard said the trips were planned "so that they (Martinez and Grant) would have the biggest amount of free time possible." During five days in Hawaii, Packard said, Martinez carried out only one official function, visiting a job corps site under construction in Maui.

"If you could call looking at a construction site accomplishing something," Packard said, "then Marty accomplished something."

Eric Jensen, the subcommittee's staff director, said the trips were worthwhile. He said the Puerto Rico visit was made at the request of Puerto Rican officials who were concerned about a high unemployment rate and wanted more help from the Department of Labor. He said Martinez missed some of the scheduled activities on the Hawaiian trip because he had to stay in Washington to vote.

Martinez insisted that all the subcommittee trips he took had a legitimate business purpose.

"I've never been on a trip that was just a vacation," he said. "I don't want to respond to that kind of garbage."

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