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Our Scandalous Past : Some were rogues, some only unfortunates. But through the years Ventura County has had its share of public figures in hot water.

September 06, 1990|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Never mind Tom Ely. Whether he's an innocent Ventura Community College trustee (as he maintains) or the wanderlusty embezzler of some $15,000 in public funds (as the district attorney alleges), his case just doesn't scandalize the way certain passages of local history do.

Over the years, elected officials and prominent citizens in Ventura County have been accused of taking bribes; drinking on the job; refusing to salute the flag; stealing from the post office; fixing family traffic tickets; making lewd gestures, while naked, to strangers, and shoplifting at Sears. Some of those allegations stuck, some didn't. But they all seem to endure in memory.

A handful of old-timers, for instance, can still recall that evening in June, 1957, when an irate sheriff's deputy faced down the Santa Paula police chief on the lawn of City Hall.

Copping an attitude: Santa Paula's chief of police is accused of being 'drunk half the time.'

The City Council had just finished meeting when sheriff's Lt. Perry Barker, whose area included Santa Paula, went public with charges that Police Chief George H. Weiner was drinking heavily on the job and might throw the town open to vice and organized crime.

"He's drunk half the time. And you can quote me on that," yelled Barker, according to newspaper accounts at the time.

Weiner immediately threatened a lawsuit for slander, and a grand jury inquiry commenced soon thereafter. By the recollection of Santa Paula's current police chief, Walt Adair, none of the accusations was ever tested in court.

But the deputy's protest achieved its desired effect: Weiner resigned Sept. 1, 1957, three months after the accusations and just one year after his appointment to office.

On the take: A county supervisor pockets $3,000 from a rock products company.

But when talk turns to scandals, Howard F. (Robbie) Robinson is more often remembered.

Robinson won election to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in 1964, then won reelection in 1968. In the intervening time, he took about $3,000 in unreported funds from officials of Consolidated Rock Products Co., and the district attorney's office found out.

On Dec. 22, 1970, Robinson was convicted on six counts of bribery. Two months later Superior Court Judge Edwin F. Beach sentenced the 48-year-old ex-supervisor to one to 14 years in state prison. In remarks quoted by the Ventura Star-Free Press, Beach tried to emphasize Robinson's contributions to the community.

"Almost all of his work," Beach said, praising faintly, "has been done without thought of personal aggrandizement."

Peter D. Kossoris, now the county's senior deputy district attorney, prosecuted the case.

"People were saying it was the first time a public official had been convicted of bribery in the history of the county," Kossoris recalled recently. "And we haven't had a bribery case since."

Odd man out: A free-spirited councilman questions the right to impose laws.

There was, however, the city councilman who wouldn't salute the flag.

Dick Bozung was his name. A slow-growther who had just prevailed in a legal fight against expansion-minded Camarillo city officials, Bozung was elected to the Ventura City Council in 1974.

"He was an all-American boy--only about 30 years old, and clean-cut," said veteran Ventura Councilman John McWherter, who took office the same year.

But while McWherter, now 75, was holding onto his seat, Bozung was testing Ventura County's social mores.

"He let his hair grow Afro-style," McWherter said. "I mean Afro--eight or 10 inches out from his head. And he let his beard grow unattended. It was just a mess. He wore a horizontal-striped T-shirt, overalls, and went barefooted. A number of times, I kept him from being kicked out of places the council was invited because they thought he was a bum."

Bozung lived on a boat in Ventura Harbor for a while, and then moved the boat to Santa Barbara and commuted to Ventura council meetings. Sometimes he hitchhiked around town. Once he advertised in an alternative tabloid called the "Mother Earth News" for seaworthy female companionship. As McWherter recalls it, the ad mentioned that he was on the Ventura City Council.

But it was when Bozung stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance at council meetings--because he had come to question any government's right to impose laws on citizens--that the real trouble began. McWherter remembers hearing from the American Legion, among others.

The situation deepened when Bozung proposed an amendment to the city charter that would have essentially eliminated the regulatory power of Ventura's municipal government. He said he had no plans to step down, unless of course the people felt he should.

But on Nov. 1, 1976, Bozung did resign, in a speech that the city clerk summarized this way:

"Councilman Bozung stated that since taking office he has had a change in philosophy of the functions of government. . . . He felt that he could not be true to himself to remain in office and felt that it was appropriate to resign."

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