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Robbins' Rebound : Politics: The former state senator looks toward an uncertain future. He says his stint in federal prison made him appreciate the small things in life.


Alan Robbins is sitting in a garden of lush bamboo, palm and fern foliage outside his Encino dream home, the one with the koi pond, polished hardwood floors, sweeping entrance--and a "For Sale" sign out front.

The elegant, half-century-old hillside estate, which has been the former state senator's pride during the eight years he has owned it, now stands vacant. It is a luxury that as a felon he can no longer afford.

After spending 20 months in prison for racketeering and tax evasion, Robbins still owes the federal government about $4 million in fines and restitution. On top of that are substantial legal bills.

Once a self-made multimillionaire with a portfolio of real estate holdings, Robbins is now cash-poor, he says.

Robbins contends that the drop in the real estate market left him with nothing to turn over to lawyers and federal authorities. But he is vague about his actual net worth--and it is in his best interest to appear penniless. Robbins is trying to persuade officials to give him back his real estate license, saying that he needs it to pay his restitution.

For now, Robbins, 51, lives in a small Westwood apartment. "People ask me, 'How can you live in a one-bedroom apartment when you are used to having this beautiful, gorgeous home?' " Robbins said in a wide-ranging recent interview. "When you are accustomed to living with nothing, you develop an appreciation for every little thing."

Before being snared in Sacramento's biggest corruption scandal, Robbins represented the San Fernando Valley for 18 years. Now he stays busy chasing down the former business partners that he said denied him profits while he was incarcerated and who now find themselves the targets of numerous lawsuits he has filed.

"There's been a lot of people trying to take advantage of me, the last being my tenant in this house who took the last thing I had left, my furniture," he said. But Robbins is philosophical. "There's an old Greek saying: If it doesn't kill me, it makes me stronger."

He spends much of his time at the offices of a local law firm working on his own cases. This is vintage Robbins; acquaintances say he was never one to let the opportunity for litigation pass him by.

He has won one of his suits, obtaining a $500,000 judgment handed down before he was released from a halfway house in Hollywood earlier this month. He says he has three or four other major litigations pending against people "who helped themselves to fairly large pieces of my net worth," plus a few minor suits to collect smaller debts.

As for life beyond the lawsuits, Robbins said, his future is an open question.

"I'm still in the process of trying to figure that out," Robbins said. "I thought I had it figured out but, to be honest, I was thrown for a loop."

What caught him off guard was the recent revocation of his real estate license by a state commissioner who determined that Robbins "had lost his moral compass" and had not demonstrated that he was rehabilitated.

Robbins plans to appeal that ruling, and may also try to regain his law license--he was disbarred as a felon--and says he is examining a business proposal involving setting up a phone network.

No longer appearing as gaunt and anxious as he did while in prison, Robbins speaks acceptingly of the lessons he learned in Lompoc Federal Prison Camp, where he was visited frequently by his son, 23, his daughter, 21, and his 82-year-old mother.

"I used to take it for granted that someone else would mop the floors and do the cleaning. Now I no longer do," he says. In prison, his jobs included washing dishes, mopping floors and scrubbing toilets.

Robbins says he also learned to accept punishment for his actions, which included extorting nearly $250,000 from a San Diego hotel developer, laundering money and using his office to extort cash and campaign contributions from a number of sources.

He blames himself for letting power go to his head. "In Sacramento, everybody bows and scrapes and laughs at your jokes. After a short while, you start to believe there was some reason other than just luck that you arrived there. You start to believe you have a right to expect people to attend your fund-raisers."

Indeed, toward the end of his legislative career, Robbins had developed a reputation as having an inflated view of himself. "There were a number of legislators who would have said I could have used a strong dose of humility," he said.

While in prison, Robbins read about 100 books, mostly dogeared paperbacks ranging from the out-of-date pop psychology books "I'm OK, You're OK" and "Passages" to whatever escapist bestsellers were on hand.

Robbins, who pleaded guilty to his crimes and cooperated with federal authorities in prosecuting other Capitol figures, said he never hit a truly low point during his sentence.

"You prepare yourself as best you can, but it was a stark reality, nevertheless," he said. "I think the fact that I had made the decision to (plead guilty and serve prison time) made it easier for me."

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