SACRAMENTO — With the FBI stepping up its Capitol corruption investigation in 1990, a cautious state Sen. Alan Robbins slipped $12,000 in cash to Paul B. Carpenter, then a member of the State Board of Equalization, at two clandestine meetings in Los Angeles, Robbins testified Thursday.
Robbins, then a Democratic legislator representing Van Nuys, described the secret money exchanges, including one in the men's room of a McDonald's restaurant, at the public corruption trial of Carpenter and lobbyist Clayton R. Jackson.
Robbins, serving a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to corruption charges, is the key prosecution witness and remained at center stage in the trial's third day.
He described an elaborate money-laundering scheme designed to benefit himself. Robbins said he arranged for Jackson to channel campaign contributions to Carpenter, who, in turn, would pay the funds to a Santa Monica public relations firm, Goddard Co. The firm paid out much of the money to Robbins' former female roommates, girlfriends and a massage therapist, Robbins said.
He also testified that Carpenter had told him that Jackson would funnel some contributions to Carpenter for his role in the scheme--devised to avoid publicly reporting large amounts of money from Jackson's clients, primarily in the insurance industry, to Robbins, then-chairman of the Senate Insurance, Claims and Corporations Committee.
According to the testimony, when Carpenter complained that Jackson failed to live up to his end of the deal, Robbins and Carpenter met at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles on a Saturday in early April, 1990, during the Democratic Party's state convention.
The two men quickly left the hotel and meandered on foot through deserted streets, seeking to shake any possible law enforcement tails en route to a restaurant at the Downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Robbins said Carpenter told him that lobbyist Jackson "hadn't completed sending him the last batch of funds and could I do something about it."
But the meeting was interrupted when they spotted a television news reporter sitting nearby. The pair left the restaurant and resumed their zigzag walk until they came to a McDonald's. In the lavatory, Robbins said, he pulled out a wad of $5,000 and put it in a trash bin.
Carpenter immediately pulled out the bills and asked, "What's this?" before sticking the roll in his pocket, Robbins testified.
In September, 1990, Robbins said, the two met again in a conference room of his lawyer's office. When the meeting started, Carpenter said he still had not received all the money from Jackson.
"I had $5,000 in my pocket which I took out and gave to him," Robbins said. In a whisper, Carpenter asked how much he had been handed and Robbins held up five fingers, Robbins told the jury. Carpenter said that was not enough and Robbins agreed to slip him another $2,000.
As a precaution against being photographed by law enforcement agents from a neighboring office building, Robbins said he "took the money and handed it to him under the table."
In an interview outside court, Carpenter brushed aside Robbins' tale as preposterous. He acknowledged that at least one meeting took place, but not as described by Robbins.
Carpenter and Jackson have pleaded not guilty to charges in U.S. District Court. Carpenter, a former state senator, is charged with 11 counts of conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Jackson is charged with 10 counts of racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering.
Times staff writer Cynthia H. Craft contributed to this story.