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Former Treasurer Guilty of Tax Evasion : Corruption: Bush Administration official also admits obstructing federal probe and concealing business links.

February 18, 1994|RONALD J. OSTROW and RAY DELGADO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Catalina Vasquez Villalpando, U.S. Treasurer during the George Bush Administration, pleaded guilty Thursday to evading federal income taxes, obstructing an independent counsel's corruption investigation and conspiring to conceal financial links with her former company.

Villalpando, whose name is still printed on paper currency, admitted that she committed the crimes as charged by prosecutors for the Justice Department and by Arlin M. Adams, the independent counsel investigating corruption at the Housing and Urban Development Department during the Ronald Reagan Administration.

She faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and fines of $750,000. But as a first-time offender, she is likely to draw substantially lighter punishment, particularly if she cooperates with prosecutors in their continuing investigations.

As Treasurer from December, 1989, until Bush left office, Villalpando oversaw the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the U.S. Mint and promoted the sale of U.S. savings bonds. As a Latina, she often was cited by Bush Administration officials as evidence of their commitment to elevating minorities.

President Clinton's nominee for Treasurer, Mary Ellen Withrow, will be sworn in March 1, a Treasury Department spokeswoman said. Withrow's name will replace Villalpando's on all new U.S. bills later in the month.

Villalpando displayed no emotion as she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court and assured Judge Thomas F. Hogan that she understood the gravity of the offenses and the terms of the plea agreements.

In a written statement she said: "While devoting all my attention and energies to the demands of my public office, I neglected to attend some personal matter with the care and immediacy they required."

Describing her court appearance as "a most painful and sad day for me," Villalpando said she accepted "full responsibility for my mistakes" and that her admission "marks the first step in what I understand will be a long journey back."

Hogan allowed Villalpando to remain free until sentencing, but did not set a date for the proceeding because of the pending HUD investigation, in which her cooperation is being sought.

She admitted evading payment of $47,013 in additional federal income tax for 1989 by failing to report $167,901 in taxable income for that year.

Villalpando also admitted to conspiring to conceal from the Treasury Department, the Office of Government Ethics, the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate her receipt in 1989 and 1990 of substantial funds and benefits from a Georgia-based telecommunications firm where she was a senior vice president and director.

The company, Communications International Inc., was awarded federal government contracts after being approved by the Small Business Administration as a minority-owned small and disadvantaged business.

The facts she withheld "were capable of influencing the actions and judgments of those departments and agencies" on her fitness for office, according to the conspiracy charge.

Government employees are not allowed to receive payment or benefits from private companies. Her compensation included a $250,000 "severance bonus," life and auto insurance and payment of credit card and telephone charges.

Villalpando admitted that she conspired with another person beginning in March, 1989--when she was told Bush intended to nominate her for Treasurer--and continued doing so until about June, 1992.

In the obstruction of justice charge related to Adams' investigation, Villalpando admitted directing the destruction of documents bearing on the relationship between a dissolved subsidiary of Communications International and Deborah Gore Dean.

Dean--the former executive assistant to Samuel R. Pierce Jr., HUD secretary during the Reagan Administration--is scheduled to be sentenced by Hogan next week on her conviction of 12 felony counts. Her six-week trial showed her to be instrumental in funneling millions of federal dollars to housing projects that benefited politically connected Republicans.

Villalpando admitted that in July, 1992, she instructed Ernest Olivas, manager of Communications International's Washington office, to destroy the documents and records being sought by Adams' investigators.

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