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State Paying for Security at Roberti's Residence : Government: He is the only lawmaker with a taxpayer-financed home system. Legislator says he agreed to protection after he received death threats.

June 03, 1993|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — State Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti for the last eight years has been granted the special benefit of a home protection system at taxpayer expense, The Times has learned.

Roberti is the only legislator whose personal residence has been equipped with a state-financed security system, Assembly and Senate officials said.

The Senate Rules Committee in 1985 secretly authorized the system costing $10,500 at Roberti's Los Feliz-area house and three years later earmarked another $2,300 for a system at his Sacramento home, committee officials said.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Tony Beard said that after threats to Roberti's life were received during the 1984 Olympics, he urged the Rules Committee to approve the system. Roberti said he did not seek the protection but said the decision was justified because of the threats and several burglaries at his homes.

In one incident, an intruder apparently cut himself while breaking into the lawmaker's Los Angeles home, rifled through his desk and dripped blood onto the senator's daily schedule--which Roberti said he kept. On another occasion, after the security equipment was installed, Roberti said he was notified by the FBI of death threats.

Roberti acknowledged that the security equipment remains at that Los Feliz house, even though he established a separate voting residence last year by renting a home in Van Nuys to qualify to run in a special election in the San Fernando Valley.

Before the election, opponents filed a suit against Roberti, alleging that he had not lived in the district for one year as required by the state Constitution. The suit was rejected and Roberti went on to win the election.

Roberti said he regularly slept at the Van Nuys house last year but now uses it only for meetings. Roberti said he sometimes stays there during the day but has not slept there since November.

Roberti, whose term ends next year, said he plans to reimburse the state for the security equipment after he leaves office.

Disclosure of Roberti's beefed-up protection comes as his colleagues are increasingly worried about their personal safety.

Just last week, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure by Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) to allow campaign funds to be earmarked for home and office security devices. Currently, public officials are prohibited from dipping into their campaign treasuries for personal security systems.

Earlier this year, the Rules Committee approved the use of taxpayer funds for Sen. Teresa Hughes (D-Inglewood) to hire an off-duty Los Angeles police sergeant to guard her when she is in her district. The committee agreed to pay the officer $30 an hour--up to a maximum of $900 a month--to protect Hughes when she attends meetings at night or on weekends in her district.

In an interview, Roberti he grew passionate when discussing the risks faced by public officials who tackle such contentious issues as the ban on assault rifles he championed. The ban, signed into law in 1989, prompted an increase in threats against Roberti, said Beard, the sergeant-at-arms.

Roberti contended that legislators "are going to be reluctant to ever (introduce) anything controversial" if they don't think that their families have even modest security. "And I didn't know that accepting these kind of threats has to be part of the job. I guess it is and we live with it but I do think at some point there's a state obligation."

Roberti said he is exposed to danger as a direct result of his position as a high-profile lawmaker: "The exposure I'm concerned about is because the position I hold and the legislation I carry.

"I don't think I have manufactured the problems I face, the problems my family faces," he said.

Another reason cited by Senate officials for the security equipment is that Roberti is third in line to succeed Pete Wilson as governor.

A spokesman for the state Department of General Services, which maintains Gov. Wilson's suburban Sacramento home, said a security system was installed at public expense when former Gov. George Deukmejian lived there.

Karl Samuelian, who heads a private foundation that bought the house when Deukmejian was governor, said his group leases it to the state for a nominal amount. He said the lease provides that the state install and provide whatever security is needed.

Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, ahead of Roberti in the line of succession, paid for his family's home security system, said spokesman Ron Gray. He said McCarthy, like Wilson, has other security provided by the state.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who follows Roberti in succession, said he too purchased his own security system. "I own it. I bought it just like I bought my washing machine," Brown said.

Bob Connelly, chief administrative officer of the Assembly Rules Committee, said the state provides security systems for some district offices. But he added, "I haven't arranged for any private, at-home stuff or any bodyguard."

Cliff Berg, executive officer of the Senate Rules Committee, said the panel approved security systems for Roberti's Los Feliz and Sacramento homes in executive session because the decisions involved security.

He said that at the time the action was taken to protect the Los Feliz house, it was in Roberti's old Hollywood area district.

Roberti, chairman of the committee, said he refused to vote on the matter, in part because he did not initiate the request.

"He objected to what I wanted to do. That's the honest truth," recalled Beard, who said he recommended the protection as part of an overall review of Senate security. "It wasn't his idea."

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