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Racism Issue Looms Large in Moore Trial

Courts: The former Compton official, facing extortion charges, has long said U.S. justice system is biased against blacks.

July 24, 1996|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From the police beating of Rodney G. King to a Korean grocer's killing of a black teenager to the Los Angeles riots, Compton City Councilwoman Patricia Moore found her way into the national spotlight of one racially charged episode after another.

Through it all, her message was the same: "There is no justice for African Americans in this country."

Today, the 47-year-old Moore begins her own confrontation with American justice as she goes on trial in federal court on 25 counts of extortion and tax fraud.

Behind the outspoken crusader for social justice, prosecutors say, was a corrupt politician who used her official position to exact bribes from two companies with projects pending before the Compton City Council.

Moore was snared in the same probe of official corruption in Compton that brought down former Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton) last year.

Convicted of extorting $30,000 in payoffs while he was Compton's mayor in 1991 and 1992, Tucker recently began serving a 27-month term at the Lompoc federal prison.

In their case against Moore, prosecutors say they have amassed incriminating audio- and videotapes that show her soliciting and receiving payoffs about 20 times.

Prosecutors also intend to introduce as evidence a detailed confession Moore gave to FBI agents as well as her testimony to a federal grand jury, all obtained before she reneged on a plea agreement with the government.

Moore's current attorneys say that her confession was coerced and that she was illegally entrapped by FBI operatives, who played on her emotional vulnerability and on her desire to improve the lot of blacks in Compton.

The race issue looms large in this trial, which will be taken up with jury selection this week and is expected to last at least two months.

In pretrial skirmishes, Moore charged that the FBI's four-year investigation in Compton was racially inspired, part of a nationwide campaign to take down outspoken black elected officials.

At one point, her lawyers threatened to call Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, New York's fiery Rev. Al Sharpton and beating victim Rodney G. King, among others, as defense witnesses, but they have since dropped those names from their witness list.

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Angered by the accusation of racism, the government fired back, contending that Moore approached the FBI on her own in 1983 and again in 1989, charging that corruption was rampant in Compton's predominantly black city government and offering to serve as a confidential informant.

"In fact, it was the defendant who accused virtually every leading black politician in Compton of official corruption," government lawyers declared in a pretrial brief.

They say Moore's offer of assistance was rejected because she was running for office at the time and it was feared that her gesture was politically motivated.

Ultimately, the defense lost the argument when it tried to have the case thrown out on grounds that Moore was the target of "selective prosecution."

U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall ruled that Moore's lawyers failed to meet the burden of proof mandated by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. In that ruling, the high court declared that to support a claim of selective prosecution, defendants must show "similarly situated whites" are getting away with the same crime.

"If there had been evidence to that effect, the court would have no hesitance in sanctioning the government," Marshall said.

But defense lawyers continue to insist that racism permeated the FBI investigation.

They say Moore was set up by the FBI through a black undercover operative, an ex-convict named Stan Bailey, who became her lover, promised marriage and then absconded with her money.

The last time she saw him, she says, was the night he invited her to his apartment for dinner, slipped a knockout drug into her drink, then raped her and left her bound to a bedpost.

Acknowledging that Bailey was an undercover operative, the government says it never authorized him to develop a sexual relationship with Moore and that she never received any bribe payments from, through or in the presence of the mysterious government agent.

Interestingly, the prosecution does not plan to call Bailey as a witness, but the defense is eager to interrogate him about his role in the case. Bailey is expected to testify that he never sexually assaulted Moore.

He was brought into the investigation to assist another undercover operative, San Gabriel Valley businessman John Macardican, who is white and who is the star witness against Moore.

Macardican was recruited by the FBI in 1990 after he revived plans to build a $250-million garbage-to-energy conversion plant in Compton. In the mid-1980s, the Compton City Council rejected a similar proposal by Macardican. He claims he was rebuffed because he refused to pay bribes.

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