SACRAMENTO — Armed with court orders in a late-night sweep that ended early Thursday, two dozen or more federal agents fanned through the Capitol searching offices and questioning legislators in an investigation into possible violations of the federal anti-racketeering and extortion act.
The probe, by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office here, centers on two special-interest bills, one carried in 1986 and another this year by Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles). The bills, which would have aided specific small businesses, won approval in the Legislature with little opposition but were both vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian.
Officials of the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office refused to comment on the ongoing investigation beyond issuing a general statement confirming that six search warrants were executed at the close of the Assembly session Wednesday night. David Levi, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, said that at his request the federal court had sealed all records connected with the warrants, partly to quell speculation about which legislators might be involved in the investigation.
But the secret nature of the investigation prompted a gust of disclosures and rumors, which blew through the Senate and the Assembly chambers as lawmakers tried to complete work on a long list of bills before their scheduled Aug. 31 adjournment. Several legislators expressed the belief that a few of their colleagues had been the subject of an FBI sting operation involving dummy storefront businesses.
Even those whose offices were searched contended that they were not entirely sure why they had been targeted.
Quoting extensively from the warrant directing a search of his office, Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier) said that the federal investigators are looking into two special-interest bills introduced in 1986 and again this year by Assemblywoman Moore. Montoya is chairman of the Senate Business and Professions Committee and Moore chairs the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.
The warrant stated, according to Montoya, that the FBI agents were looking for "memos, letters, minutes of meetings, files, telephone messages, calendars and date books reflecting dates and times of meetings, campaign committee records reflecting receipt and disbursement of funds, or other financial records reflecting receipt and disbursement of funds" concerning the two Moore bills.
The warrant, said Montoya, reading from it, further stated that all of these items "constitute evidence of violation of . . . the Hobbs Act, extortion."
The Hobbs Act, which carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000, has been used to convict state legislators and other government officials of seeking bribes.
Legislative records say that the Moore measures would have directly helped the businesses sponsoring the bills: Gulf Shrimp Fisheries Inc. of Mobile, Ala., and Peach State Capitol Inc. The companies were seeking financing for new business operations in California, but wanted changes in state banking law in order to borrow the money they needed.
The bills were passed by the Legislature, but each was vetoed by Deukmejian. In his veto message, the governor said this year's measure was designed to help "only a single company." And in 1986, he said that bill was "not in the public interest."
Montoya complained about the FBI waiting until most legislators had left the Capitol before beginning its searches, which lasted until early Thursday morning.
"I am obviously the target of whatever investigation is going on, so I'd better talk to my lawyer," he added.
Three legislators--Assembly Republican leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, as well as Montoya and Moore--confirmed that their offices were searched.
Moore and Nolan, like Montoya, both issued brief statements contending that they knew of no reason for the investigation. They expressed confidence that they would not be implicated in any wrongdoing and would be cleared.
Said Moore in a written statement: "I fully intend to respond to any legitimate federal inquiry with the same candor and integrity that has characterized my 13-year career in public service."
Moving quickly into an elevator just ahead of a group of reporters, she would only say, "I fully cooperated."
Nolan and his aides would say little beyond the Republican leader's prepared statement: "It is not clear to me yet what the object of the investigation is. But I am confident that when the investigation is completed, my office will be completely cleared."
State Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) acknowledged that he talked to the federal agents. "They requested my assistance," Robbins said. "They clearly advised me that I was not in any way the subject of the investigation."
Board of Equalization member Paul Carpenter, formerly a Democratic state senator from Cypress, was also interviewed by an FBI agent for several minutes, according to Don Foltz, a Carpenter aide.