SACRAMENTO — Surrounded by Republican supporters, Assemblyman Pat Nolan of Glendale and Sen. Frank Hill of Whittier declared their innocence Wednesday to federal political corruption charges.
After a brief court appearance, Nolan and his San Francisco attorney, Ephraim Margolin, attacked prosecutors for pursuing the case--five years after Nolan accepted $10,000 in campaign contributions from undercover FBI agents seeking legislative favors.
"I was an honest legislator who couldn't be bought," Nolan told reporters. "The FBI resorted to fabricating a case against me."
Said Margolin: "This is not a case of a legislator caught stuffing greenbacks into (his) pockets."
To preserve a possible constitutional challenge, Margolin did not enter a not guilty plea on behalf of Nolan but asked federal magistrate Esther Mix to do so--a technical move that foreshadows the legal battle to come.
Nolan said that "the government's tactic of bullying witnesses to manufacture a case against me is every bit as much on trial as I am."
Hill, whose case centers on a $2,500 honorarium he took from undercover agents in 1988, said he was relieved to get the chance to clear his name "because I haven't done anything wrong. I intend to fight these charges with every bone in my body."
The lawmaker said his 9-year-old son keeps asking about the charges, and "I can't wait until the day comes when I can go home . . . and say, 'Greg, today's the day I got my name cleared.' "
The Republican lawmakers, along with a former Democratic legislative aide, Terry E. Frost, were caught up in an FBI sting in which agents masqueraded as Southern businessmen and sought support for a special interest bill.
Frost, now a lobbyist, also pleaded not guilty Wednesday.
Nolan, named in six of eight counts in the indictment, faces charges of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and money-laundering.
He was charged with extorting $10,000 in campaign contributions from FBI agents who posed as businessmen and sought legislation to help their bogus company build a shrimp processing plant near Sacramento.
The Glendale lawmaker, who was the Assembly Republican leader, is also charged with extorting a $10,000 campaign contribution in connection with another 1988 bill that would have helped construction of a resort in the desert city of Indian Wells.
The payment was made to a Republican-run campaign committee, Target '88, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The group reported receiving $10,000 from Dow, Lohnes & Albertson, a Washington law firm that represented Marriott Corp., which operates two hotels in the Palm Springs area and opposed the Indian Wells legislation.
Nolan was one of a handful of Assembly members to take Marriott's side and vote against the bill, which won legislative approval but was vetoed by then-Gov. George Deukmejian.
Nolan and Hill are the first Republican lawmakers to be indicted in the federal corruption probe.
The charges against Hill--three counts of extortion, conspiracy and money-laundering--center on the FBI's sting bill and the $2,500 check he accepted at a hotel across the street from the Capitol.
Frost is charged with conspiracy--helping Nolan and Hill extort a total of $12,500 from Peachstate Capital West, the bogus FBI company.
No trial date was set.