SACRAMENTO — Actor Ed Asner, former sports agent Michael Trope and a Baldwin Park recycling company were among the "victims" of an alleged extortion scheme that led to the indictment of Sen. Joseph B. Montoya, sources familiar with the federal investigation said Thursday.
The indictment of Montoya and a former top aide on 12 felony counts Wednesday resulted from the pair's systematic attempts to extort money from groups that had an interest in legislation, including Ross University on the island of Dominique and the NFL Players Assn., the sources said.
But the alleged extortion by Montoya and his former aide, Amiel Jaramillo, netted the Whittier Democrat a total of only $8,000: a $3,000 honorarium from undercover FBI agents and $5,000 in campaign contributions from Trope, who once represented such athletes as Los Angeles Rams safety Johnnie Johnson and former Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell.
U.S. Atty. David F. Levi, who is prosecuting the case, said he does not intend to bring charges against anyone who paid money to Montoya or was solicited for a bribe. "Persons who are asked to make payment in return for some official action are viewed as victims," Levi said in announcing the indictment.
The charges of racketeering, extortion and money laundering filed against Montoya and Jaramillo resulted from a 3 1/2-year FBI investigation that is continuing and also involves other lawmakers. Montoya has issued a statement proclaiming his innocence.
Montoya is the first legislator to be indicted in the investigation, which included an elaborate undercover Capitol sting operation. But seven of the 10 charges against Montoya are based on episodes the FBI learned about after the sting became public.
For example, agents contacted Asner and learned of Montoya's alleged extortion attempt after The Times reported that the actor once was pressured for a campaign contribution while lobbying in Sacramento on a bill affecting the entertainment industry.
The grand jury indictment accuses Montoya of attempting to extort a campaign contribution from Asner, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, in exchange for the senator's vote against a bill by Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena). The legislation would have extended the life of entertainment contracts to as long as 10 years, sources familiar with the case said.
The indictment does not name Asner, but sources familiar with the investigation identified him as the target of the alleged extortion.
Asner, who is in New York appearing in the play "Born Yesterday," could not be reached for comment. But last fall he described Montoya's behavior to a Times reporter as "very sleazy."
The actor, who starred in television's "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant" series, did not testify before the grand jury investigating Montoya but submitted a written statement recounting the incident.
Two of the counts against Montoya allege that he sought to raise money by telling opposing sides of the same issue--the National Football League Players' Assn. and former sports agent Trope--that his vote could be influenced by a campaign contribution.
The only payment in connection with the bill came from Trope, who gave Montoya a $5,000 political donation on March 10, 1986, according to the senator's campaign contribution reports.
Like Asner, Trope is not identified in the indictment. But sources familiar with the inquiry confirmed that one charge of extortion stemmed from the episode involving the former Beverly Hills agent.
The grand jury charged that Montoya "asked for, received and agreed to receive a $5,000 payment from an athletic agent upon his agreement and understanding that his vote . . . would be influenced in connection with legislation affecting agents of professional athletes."
The bill by Montoya would have given the state labor commissioner authority to resolve disputes between sports agents and professional athletes, instead of settling them by arbitration. The bill had the backing of sports agents but was opposed by the NFL Players Assn. and several labor unions.
Trope has long been a controversial figure in the sports world. He once so antagonized the management of the Los Angeles Rams that he was barred from the practice field. But he represented many stars, including New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the late Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ricky Bell and, over the years, a string of players selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
Trope did not return repeated telephone calls to his office.
Trope's 1986 campaign contribution was not his only donation to Montoya, who chairs the Senate Business and Professions Committee and its subcommittee on sports. In 1985, Trope gave the senator $5,600 in campaign contributions, according to reports Montoya has filed with the secretary of state.
The indictment against Montoya also charges that the senator solicited money from the NFL Players Assn. in connection with the sports agents bill.