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Shock Wave Rips Through Compton Politics : Probe: Patricia Moore's admission of extortion stirs speculation that she will be aiding the investigation of a former mayor and others.

November 20, 1994|ROBERT J. LOPEZ and RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As a rising political star, Patricia Moore never shied away from the camera. But there is one incident caught on video that the outspoken former Compton city councilwoman never wanted publicized.

The grainy footage shows Moore receiving a white envelope from a man she thought was a financier trying to build a waste-to-energy plant in Compton. Instead, he was an undercover FBI agent. And the envelope contained cash Moore accepted to back the project, according to sources familiar with the case.

For months after being shown the video by federal prosecutors in March--the same day that word of a sweeping investigation of alleged political corruption in Compton was reported--Moore never flinched from proclaiming her innocence.

"I swear on the Bible, I never accepted any money from anyone," she said recently, during one of the few times she spoke publicly about the investigation.

But in a confession that stunned her political friends and foes alike, the woman who gained national prominence as an advocate of African American causes admitted last week that she had extorted $9,100 from the company that wanted to build the incinerator. Moore, 46, pleaded guilty to a single count of felony extortion. She could receive up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Moore also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to file a federal tax return for 1992.

Her surprise plea sent shock waves through Compton's close-knit political community, already reeling from the indictment in August of Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton). Tucker is accused of accepting $30,000 in bribes and demanding another $250,000 to support the trash project while serving as mayor in 1991 and 1992. He has proclaimed his innocence.

Moore's admission fueled speculation that she will be a star witness for the prosecution when Tucker goes to trial in February and that she also may be providing evidence against others in the ongoing investigation.

"People here are running scared," one Compton political insider said. "They're just waiting for the next shoe to drop."

Her guilty plea is the low point in a colorful and often turbulent life in which the daughter of migrant laborers has risen from picking fruit to elective office and endured two failed marriages and four consecutive political losses.

Moore had an uncanny ability to command the spotlight during a series of racially charged episodes, from the fatal shooting of a black teen-ager by a Korean American grocer to the police beating of Rodney G. King, once referring to the Los Angeles riots as "pay-back time."

Now unemployed, Moore has for months been living as a virtual recluse, even disguising her voice as that of a little girl to fend off unwanted visitors at her home.

"I just want to live a quiet life," she said last summer, peering from behind her door. "I want to be a normal person with a real life without people placing me in a glass house."

Despite her problems, Moore had until recently remained outwardly confident about her future, insisting that the investigation represented "another chapter in my life," and hinting that the public had not seen the last of Patricia Moore.

But that has all changed.

"She made a mistake," said Paul Potter, her attorney. "Lots of people do. I just hope that when everything is said and done, people will remember the positive things."

As a youngster, Moore passed her summers in the dusty Central Valley, picking watermelons, plums and grapes with her family. "I couldn't sleep at night because we would sleep on those mattresses that were full of bedbugs, and they would bite us," she once recalled.

She remembered wishing she were in the Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades that passed by while she and her siblings were in the fields. She finally got her chance at Corcoran High, near Fresno, where she became the school's first African American majorette.

*

After high school, Moore moved to Los Angeles, went to business school and worked at the Bank of America. She married a former Compton police officer, raised three children and has two grandchildren. The marriage broke up 15 years ago.

There was a secret--and disastrous--second marriage at South Lake Tahoe on Halloween, 1991, to a man barely half her age whom she believed owned his own entertainment company and an expensive home in the Hollywood Hills.

Moore annulled the marriage to Leroy Guillory, citing fraud, court documents show. He is in prison serving a 12-year sentence for kidnaping a man at gunpoint in 1991.

Her political career has also had its ups and downs. But one thing has remained constant: her outspokenness.

A onetime aide to former congressman Mervyn M. Dymally, Moore made her first campaign for public office in 1981 in an unsuccessful bid for Compton mayor. Her political fortunes changed in 1989, when she gained attention organizing marches for gun control after a 2-year-old was killed in a drive-by shooting. The publicity helped get her elected to the City Council that year.

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