SANTA ANA — Authorities are investigating whether Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth helped kill a costly residential fire-prevention measure in exchange for thousands of dollars in improvements to his Anaheim Hills home from a major local builder, The Times has learned.
In one of his first official acts as chairman of the Board of Supervisors in January, 1990, Roth--citing a last-minute staff recommendation--successfully moved to shelve a proposal to force developers to install automated fire sprinklers in thousands of new homes. The board unanimously approved the move.
Roth said he was sending the measure back to staff "for further study." Nearly three years later, it has not returned to the board for a vote.
Roth denied any connection between the home improvements in early 1990 and his position on the sprinkler issue. His attorney, Dana Reed, called the suggestion "preposterous" and "utterly ridiculous."
But even as the county's building industry was lobbying against the proposal at that time, workers for the Presley Co. development firm were knocking down a wall at Roth's new Anaheim Hills home and doing other free or undervalued work for him.
Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Guy Ormes said: "We can confirm that we are looking at the sprinkler vote and whether or not it has any relation to the house improvements." He declined to discuss further details.
A fire official said the district attorney's office has contacted the Orange County Fire Department about its failed efforts to persuade the supervisors to approve the legislation.
Larry J. Holms, Orange County director of fire services, said he was told that one of his employees had been questioned recently by investigators about whether there was "undue pressure" surrounding the sprinkler proposal.
And Roth's ex-wife, Jackie Roth, confirmed that she was also questioned about the issue by district attorney's investigators when they interviewed her last month as part of a seven-month-investigation into allegations of influence peddling against Roth. Jackie Roth refused to discuss details of the interview.
But sources said she told authorities about a conversation she had with Roth in mid-1989, as the couple was discussing a family-room expansion and other improvements that the Presley Co. was to make at their new home.
In recounting that conversation, Jackie Roth was said to have quoted Roth as saying that the work "wasn't going to cost anything" because the Presley Co. wanted to ensure Roth's support on the upcoming sprinkler vote.
Jackie Roth alleged that her husband told her: "They don't want me to be voting for sprinklers," sources said. She later confirmed to The Times that she had told authorities about this remark.
Evidence has mounted in recent months about meals, trips, flight upgrades, landscaping work, an $8,500 loan and other unreported gifts that Roth received from local business people who later had projects before the county. Under state law, elected officials are required to report all gifts in excess of $50, and to disqualify themselves for one year from voting on matters involving people who have given them items valued at $250 or more.
Presley officials declined to discuss the issue. Asked whether there was any connection between the improvements and the vote, company President L.C. (Bob) Albertson Jr., an occasional golfing partner of Roth, said: "No comment."
In a written statement released through his lawyer, Roth said he was "saddened and appalled" to learn of his ex-wife's allegations. "Her claim is absolutely false. I can only attribute her statements to the fact that she remains very bitter over our (1991) divorce."
Roth, under investigation since May because of allegations of influence peddling, received thousands of dollars in free or undervalued improvements at his new Anaheim Hills home from the Presley Co. in 1989 and 1990.