SANTA ANA — Two members of a family business that has been linked to allegations of influence peddling involving Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth have agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution, their lawyer said Thursday.
Donald J. Dougher II, 35, said he agreed to the immunity deal because he felt that his family's political and financial dealings had made him "a witness to a crime."
In particular, he mentioned a slew of $99 checks from family members that were distributed to incumbent political candidates around the county. A candidate who received such a contribution would not be required under state law to disclose where the money came from because it falls below the $100 reporting threshold.
He said he and his father, Donald J. Dougher, 65, both of Newport Beach, received written assurance last Friday from the U.S. attorney's office that they would not be prosecuted for gifts they made to local politicians who have authority over the family's dozen Orange County mobile home parks. No charges have been brought.
But another key player--Gerard J. Dougher, 70, who is Donald Sr.'s brother--is not known to have received any promises of immunity from federal prosecutors. Gerard Dougher declined comment Thursday.
Members of the Dougher family are fighting in Superior Court over control of their mobile home empire and are to square off at a hearing in Santa Ana today in their park ownership battle.
The fight between the brothers is epitomized by a button that Donald Dougher's lawyer had printed up for today's hearing. It reads: "My client has immunity. Does yours?"
The FBI is investigating allegations that members of the Dougher family may have sought to influence votes through gifts and campaign contributions, officials have said.
Donald Dougher II said he and other family members would often sign $99 checks but leave the recipient line blank, then give the checks to Gerard Dougher or someone else to distribute to local candidates.
The federal probe is known to have focused on the family's relationship with Roth, a two-term supervisor from Anaheim. It was reported last month that Roth failed to disclose in state-mandated filings that members of the Dougher family had given him three trips to Santa Catalina Island and what amounted to an $8,500 loan through an unusual rental arrangement.
Last December, Roth voted along with his four other supervisors to approve a permit for a $5-million condominium project in Midway City on land owned by the Doughers, although the county's Planning Commission had already blocked the project.
Roth refused comment Thursday. His attorney, Dana Reed, said he is not worried about the immunity protection given the Doughers.
"Don has nothing to hide. There's nothing to the best of my knowledge . . . that Donald Dougher could say that would in any way affect Supervisor Roth," Reed said.
Officials with the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office declined comment on the case and refused to confirm whether any immunity deals had been struck.
Discussing the federal investigation, Ronald Cordova, an attorney for Donald Dougher and his son, said his clients "will cooperate fully because it's in their best interests to do so."
But speaking of the grant of immunity, he said, he does not believe either man committed any crimes--"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Cordova said he had been negotiating for several weeks with federal officials about immunity for his clients. The agreement was struck last Friday evening in a meeting at Cordova's Newport Beach office attended by an FBI agent and Donald Dougher and his son.
Donald Dougher could not be reached for comment on the meeting, but his son said he spoke for only a few minutes with the FBI agent, while his father talked longer.
Donald Dougher II said in an interview that the FBI agent asked about Roth but that he told him that he did not know the supervisor. He said the federal agent appeared particularly interested in the $99 contributions given by business entities owned by his family to local politicians in cities where the family operated mobile home parks.
"I remember the checks because they were a pain in the neck," he said. "They always screwed up our accounts. I called them checks to nobody."
The son, who owns a 50% interest in three family parks in Brea, Orange and Anaheim, said Gerard Dougher would call periodically and ask for up to half a dozen checks to be made out for $99 each, leaving the payee line blank.
"I made out about 30 such checks between 1985 and 1990," Donald Dougher II said in the interview. "He just said, 'Send them to me blank.' It may sound stupid, but I don't even know who they went to."
Donald Dougher II said he felt that he did nothing wrong but accepted immunity because he feared that he might be drawn into the case.
But he said the immunity did not come without a price. Noting that he had to hire an attorney, he said, "I had to go out and pay ten grand to get" immunity.