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Prosecutors Say Roth Kept Bargain : Sentence: The 200 hours of physical labor performed by the once-powerful former supervisor lived up to his plea deal, they say.

September 21, 1993|ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Despite their earlier misgivings, prosecutors say they are now satisfied that former Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth has worked 200 hours of physical labor to help satisfy a plea bargain struck last spring over allegations of influence-peddling.

Roth's lawyer, Paul S. Meyer, has given the court sworn letters written last month by two local nonprofit groups detailing the time that the former board chairman spent stripping walls, painting, and cleaning up their facilities. Meyer even submitted a grainy photocopy of a snapshot that showed the 72-year-old Roth with a paint pad in hand.

Once among the county's most powerful politicians, Roth pleaded guilty to seven criminal misdemeanors last March and agreed to pay a $50,000 fine for failing to report thousands of dollars in gifts from local constituents--including home improvements, landscaping and an $8,500 housing loan--and then voting on three matters affecting the donors.

The 200-hour community service requirement was only a small part of the plea bargain that Roth struck with prosecutors to end their 11-month, influence-peddling probe against him. But the issue proved controversial after The Times disclosed in April, two weeks after his plea, that Roth was performing his community service by organizing a charity golf tournament.

Ironically, Roth's acceptance of free golf outings had led in part to two of his seven guilty pleas. Questions had also been raised during the influence-peddling probe about Roth's unorthodox use of political campaign funds to bid on items at a celebrity golf tournament in 1991 and to buy himself a trip to Atlanta for a Los Angeles Rams football game.

Prosecutors balked at the idea of Roth organizing a golf tournament to meet his community service agreement, saying last spring that this was never the type of "physical labor" they had in mind when they allowed Roth to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charges.

Now--as they look toward an Oct. 25 court deadline that should effectively close out the Roth case--prosecutors say they are satisfied.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Guy N. Ormes said that authorities did not conduct an independent investigation to verify the time Roth says he worked. But he noted: "What we have on file are forms signed under penalty of perjury saying that he has completed this physical labor . . . so it appears he has complied with the court order."

Roth, who has maintained a virtual silence regarding the case for the last 17 months, could not be reached for comment Monday.

In his court filing, attorney Meyer submitted two letters from nonprofit groups--one dated Aug. 5 from Western Youth Services in Fullerton and a second dated Aug. 10 from the Boys & Girls Club of Anaheim. Each agency gave a breakdown of the total 211 hours that officials said Roth had spent painting run-down facilities between April and August. During his time as a politician, Roth had developed close relationships with both agencies.

"He has amazed us with all he has accomplished and how he has worked with the energy of a much younger man," wrote officials at Western Youth Services, which provides help for children with severe emotional and mental handicaps.

"I was watching him," agency director Frank Scott said in an interview Monday. "I'd go in every now and then to check on him, and there he was on the ladder."

But Scott said he "felt bad" to see a man who once played a key part in shaping county government--with a $3.5-billion annual budget and 16,000 employees--now left to strip wallpaper and paint bathrooms.

"I think Don feels kind of bad too that, given the abilities he has to do good, here he was painting," said Scott, adding that he considers Roth a friend who got a "bad deal" in the legal case against him. "People don't know him for the person he is."

But at the Boys & Girls Club, Roth never voiced any hard feelings even as he was painting a badly dilapidated trailer used as a clubhouse for arts and crafts and children's activities, said agency director Michael J. Sofia.

"He did it with a smile. He never bad-mouthed anyone," he said. Meyer said Monday that Roth's community service obligation should now be complete. "I'm absolutely satisfied that we have more than fulfilled the mandate of the court," he said.

The only other issue still pending from Roth's sentence is payment of the final half of his $50,000 fine, and Meyer said that will be completed before the Oct. 25 deadline set by Orange County Municipal Court Judge Richard W. Stanford Jr. The first $25,000 was paid largely from campaign funds, but Meyer would not say how Roth plans to pay the remainder.

Even after that amount is paid, Roth is banned from holding elected office or working as a lobbyist through March, 1997, and will remain on probation for 2 1/2 years under the terms of his sentence. While Meyer would not discuss Roth's current activities in detail, he said the former Navy flier has received several offers in the areas of fund-raising and public service.

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