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ELECTIONS / STATE AND FEDERAL RACES : Rep. Beilenson Accuses GOP Rival Sybert of 'Ripping Off' Taxpayers

November 04, 1994|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — U.S. Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson on Thursday charged Richard Sybert, his Republican rival in next week's election for a San Fernando Valley congressional seat, with "ripping off" taxpayers by doing private legal work while he had a state job.

Sybert, calling the Beilenson charge a smear, responded that he was specifically cleared by state ethics officials to do such work.

Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) charged that in earning $140,600 in private legal fees on the side, Sybert failed to give undivided attention to his full-time job as director of the state Office of Planning and Research. This, Beilenson contends, means Sybert "ripped off California taxpayers" who paid his salary.

Beilenson made the charge in a mailer sent Wednesday and Thursday to tens of thousands of voters in the 24th Congressional District, which includes most of the southwestern San Fernando Valley, Conejo Valley and Malibu.

Sybert, through his campaign manager, hotly denounced the Beilenson mailer as a "smear attack" for suggesting that his extracurricular work detracted from his state job and was unethical.

The Sybert camp produced a 1991 opinion from the state's ethics office specifically clearing Sybert to do outside legal work if it did not involve clients who were doing business before his state office.

The Sybert camp also observed that if Gov. Pete Wilson were unhappy with Sybert's work ethic when Sybert was on his staff, Wilson would not have endorsed Sybert's congressional bid. Wilson urges voters to support Sybert in a letter to be mailed today.

"If the governor weren't completely happy with Rich's work, why would he be sending out this endorsement?" said James Vaughn, Sybert's campaign manager.

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Meanwhile, Phillip Romero, current chief deputy director of the Office of Planning and Research who worked for Sybert in the governor's office during 1992 and 1993, said taxpayers were very well-served by Sybert. "Next to the governor himself, he was the single hardest-working person I have ever known," Romero said.

Beilenson charged that Sybert earned $140,600 in legal fees during the first 11 months of 1993. Federal financial disclosure statements that Sybert was required to file as a congressional candidate confirm this claim and that Sybert earned another $49,600 in fees in 1992.

In 1993, Sybert also was paid $98,825 for his job with the Wilson Administration. He earned somewhat less the preceding year.

The Beilenson campaign mailer asserts that Sybert's moonlighting was "highly unusual and unethical."

After being informed that Sybert had produced an opinion from the Fair Political Practices Commission--the state's top ethics office--clearing him beforehand to work on his private legal practice under certain conditions, the Beilenson camp denied that the mailer accused Sybert of illegal activities, though the mailer's strong wording does suggest otherwise. It uses phrases such as "serious conflict of interest and breach of public trust."

"What Rich Sybert did should be illegal," added Craig Miller, Beilenson's campaign consultant. "And just because it isn't now illegal doesn't make it right."

"I can tell you right now," Miller said, "that Tony Beilenson couldn't do the excellent job he is doing in Congress and find time to make as much money on the side as Rich Sybert has."

Like Sybert, Beilenson is an attorney.

Miller also dismissed as partisan politics Wilson's endorsement and the testimonials about praising Sybert's work habits in Sacramento. Such support is to be expected from fellow Republicans and those serving Wilson, Miller said.

Sybert, through a press release, responded: "My only sin is working two jobs--I may be the first candidate in history criticized for having too much of a work ethic."

Before going to the governor's office, Sybert was a partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, a large Downtown Los Angeles law firm. When he went to Sacramento he continued to do legal work for four of the clients he had at the Sheppard firm--First Interstate Bank, Perrier Water, an Antelope Valley medical group and a French insurance company, said Vaughn, Sybert's campaign manager.

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Sybert picked up a fifth client on his own, Lanard Toys Inc., which he also represented while working in Sacramento, Vaughn said. Upon leaving the governor's office on Nov. 1, 1993, Sybert became president of a Santa Barbara-based subsidiary of Lanard, a position that he later said qualified him to be called a businessman.

Sybert said he charged his clients $200 to $250 an hour.

After learning of the four-page Beilenson mailer, Sybert threatened to sue the congressman for maligning him. But that was not the only litigation threat issued Thursday--Beilenson's camp also threatened to sue Sybert for allegedly misrepresenting the congressman's record.

"I have never in 12 years of running Tony's campaigns seen such blatant dishonesty," said Miller, Beilenson's consultant.

Specifically, Miller complained about Sybert mailers that have accused Beilenson of voting against a federal three-strikes measure, against the death penalty for drug kingpins and against punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Records show that Beilenson voted for the recently approved Clinton Administration crime bill that contains a three-strikes provision for violent felons and the death penalty for drug kingpins, and for the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli bill that punishes employers who hire illegal immigrants.

But Vaughn charged that Beilenson only voted for such measures because the crime bill included "pork-barrel" social service programs and because the Simpson-Mazzoli bill also provided amnesty for tens of thousands of illegal immigrants.

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