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Casino Election Conflict-of-Interest Investigation Widens : Government: Councilwoman, at the urging of citizens, says that colleagues who voted to place issue on ballot should be scrutinized.


BELLFLOWER — Opponents of a proposed card club in Bellflower have called for investigations of all three City Council members who voted to proceed with an August election on the casino.

Councilwoman Ruth Gilson had already asked for an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission into the financial interests of Mayor Pro Tem Ken Cleveland. But last week, she asked the commission to widen the investigation to include Councilman Bill Pendleton and Mayor Bob Stone, who also voted for the August election.

If the commission finds that a conflict existed, it would file a civil action asking to void the election. Commission spokeswoman Jeanette Turvill said she could not estimate how long it would take to complete the investigation.

If the court finds that even one council vote on the card casino proposal was improper, the election would be halted, Turvill said.

Pendleton, Cleveland and Stone said they have no conflict of interest.

"I don't think there is any conflict, period," Pendleton said. "If we were going to decide whether there's a card club, then yes. But we just voted to let the voters decide, so how could there be a conflict?"

The council action allows voters to decide Aug. 10 if they want a card club in Bellflower. The casino was proposed by Cougar Club Limited, a group of 20 local business people and former politicians.

The Cougar Club wants to build a $40-million card club with 200 gaming tables. The group estimated that the project would bring 2,000 jobs to the city, but opponents fear the club also would bring more prostitution, drugs and other urban ills to their town.

The casino opponents targeted all three councilmen, but Pendleton appears to have no conflict, Turvill said.

Citizens urged Councilwoman Gilson to ask for an investigation into Pendleton, she said, after he announced during a May 10 council meeting that he was not a card club investor, "but I may be an investor some day."

Turvill said conflict-of-interest rules apply only to current or recent investments, but not to future deals.

"He is not a problem," Turvill said.

However, the question of whether Stone and Cleveland have conflicts on the issue is not as clear, Turvill said.

Stone's wife is a real estate broker with Boggs Realty, a firm owned by one of proposed card club's partners, Virginia Boggs.

Joan Stone is not an employee, but if she earned more than $500 from that firm in the last calendar year, Bob Stone would be required to excuse himself from voting on any issue affecting Virginia Boggs, Turvill said. Stone voted on the issue, however, stating that his wife had not sold a house or made a commission since 1991.

However, on a statement of economic interests filed by Stone in February, he checked a box indicating his wife made between $1,001 and $10,000 in 1992.

Based on that document, Gilson asked the commission to investigate, she said.

Stone said it was an error, and that he did not mean that his wife made money in 1992, but that she might make a commission in 1993.

"When I fill out that paper, I'm estimating for the coming year," Stone said. "She is a real estate agent, so she could make money if she sells a house."

Because of the conflict between what the document states and what Stone says he intended, a court would have to decide the matter, Turvill said. Ultimately, a court would also have to rule on Cleveland's interest in the proposed casino, and what role his previous business partnership with Boggs played in his vote.

Until last fall, Cleveland owned a Bellflower automotive center with Boggs and another partner. He sold his interest in the center, but retained full ownership of a Midas Muffler store in the center until three days before the council vote. He sold the store to former City Councilwoman Carolyn Stanaland, mother of principal Cougar Club partner Jack Stanaland.

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