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Councilman Under Fire for Borrowing From City Officials : Government: Rudy Garcia received nearly $1,500 in personal loans. And he illegally voted to fire one of his lenders.


BELL GARDENS — City Councilman Rodolfo (Rudy) Garcia has come under fire for soliciting and receiving nearly $1,500 in personal loans from city officials in the past year.

Garcia borrowed nearly $1,000 from City Manager William Vasquez. The councilman later cast a key vote to fire Vasquez, in an apparent violation of state law.

Garcia also borrowed $150 from Lawrence Salazar, who was assistant city manager at the time, and $300 from Councilman George Deitch.

Deitch, who has been feuding with Garcia on a number of issues, questioned the propriety of the loans at a recent council meeting. Deitch asked Garcia to explain why most of the money has not been paid back, but Mayor Frank Duran ruled Deitch out of order before Garcia could respond.

Garcia said later he now regrets borrowing the money. He said he solicited the loans because he was having serious financial problems.

The former employees, Vasquez and Salazar, said this week they had concerns about Garcia's requests to borrow money from them.

"I think (we) lent him money because we feared some sort of retaliation," Salazar said.

Salazar said he lent Garcia $150 last summer to buy a plane ticket for his girlfriend, Estella Mota, so she could accompany Garcia to a conference in Monterey. The city paid for Garcia's trip. "I usually don't lend money to anyone, but this was my boss," Salazar said. "I felt I didn't really have a choice."

Vasquez said he thought the request was inappropriate at the time, but gave Garcia cash anyway to help pay for food and rent. "It put me in an awkward position, but I felt sorry for him. It was a human response to someone who needed help."

Vasquez said Garcia has repaid about $200 of the nearly $1,000 he lent him. Salazar said he has received about $40 on his loan, but Garcia insists he repaid the entire $150.

Vasquez fired Salazar late in February under pressure from the council, which said the assistant city manager lacked experience. In early March, the council voted 3-2 to fire Vasquez, who had been feuding with some council members on a number of issues. Garcia cast one of the votes to fire Vasquez.

A spokeswoman for the state's Fair Political Practices Commission said officials are prohibited by state law from voting on issues involving people with whom they have loans. The maximum penalty for such violations is $2,000, said spokeswoman Jeanette Turville. She would not comment on whether the agency is investigating Garcia's apparent violation of the law.

Garcia insists that the loan from Vasquez and the subsequent vote to fire the city manager were unrelated, and that he had no idea his vote was improper.

"I took the loan in good faith, and I intended to pay it back," he said. "My financial state has been devastating this year," he said.

Garcia said his primary source of income, the Willie C. Velasquez Center, a nonprofit organization that helps immigrants become U.S. citizens, has lost most of its funding. Garcia, the foundation's executive director, said his salary was only $2,000 last year. The foundation paid Garcia $50,000 in the 1990-91 fiscal year.

"All my funding has dried up," he said. "I don't like to borrow money, but I had to."

He said he relies on a pension of $700 a month from Bethlehem Steel. He also receives $440 from the city each month for serving as a councilman, $200 for a car allowance, medical coverage, and $50 as a member of the city's redevelopment board.

Deitch raised the loan issue again at this week's council meeting, asking the council to approve an investigation by the city attorney into whether it is proper for council members to seek loans from employees.

The motion failed when it received only two votes. Councilwoman Rosa Hernandez blasted the proposal, saying it was petty and a waste of time. She abstained. Duran voted against the proposal, saying an investigation would be too costly. He called the loans "personal business between two people and no one else." Garcia voted against the investigation, but made no comment.

Councilwoman Josefina (Josie) Macias joined Deitch in voting for the investigation. Deitch said after the meeting that he plans to raise the issue again at the next council meeting July 12.

"I wanted to expose (Garcia) for what he is," said Deitch, who keeps the canceled check he wrote to Garcia tacked to his bulletin board. "Plus, I keep hoping he'll pay me back."

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