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Figure in County Corruption Case Arrested by FBI

Crime: Richard Tisdale, convicted in San Bernardino scandal, is held after missing a sentencing hearing.

February 13, 2001|SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RIVERSIDE — A financial consultant who emerged as a key figure in a corruption case that reached the highest levels of San Bernardino County government has been taken into custody at his North Carolina home after failing to appear for his sentencing hearing, officials said Monday.

The FBI took Richard Tisdale, who bribed three officials in exchange for $372,000 in public projects, into custody Friday night, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

After spending the weekend in prison, Tisdale made an initial court appearance Monday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C. He waived his right to an identity hearing and will be taken to California by U.S. marshals, said John Gardner, the FBI's supervisory special agent in Riverside.

Tisdale was supposed to have been the sixth of seven men who have pleaded guilty in the scandal to receive his sentence, but he missed a court hearing Friday. Tisdale told his attorney, Michael S. Pasano, that he simply missed his plane before his sentencing, but U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson issued a warrant for his arrest.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Edward Moreton said Tisdale's absence was "something more serious than just missing a flight."

"The court considered it serious enough that the court issued a bench warrant," Moreton said. "His lawyer indicated to the court that he was concerned about his mental state."

Tisdale had been free on $25,000 bail since pleading guilty to bribery in December 1999, and has been living in Roaring Gap, N.C., a well-groomed golfing community near Charlotte.

Though the judge has the final word, Tisdale's plea bargain called for him to receive 24 to 30 months in federal prison. But his cooperation was considered critical to his request for such leniency, and Moreton said it's possible that the weekend's developments "could affect his status under the plea agreement."

Pasano could not be reached for comment.

Tisdale is a key figure in a bribery and kickback case that has unfolded steadily since 1997, roiling the top echelons of San Bernardino County and fostering extensive distrust of government in the county. In all, seven men--Tisdale, two other business executives and four former county officials--have pleaded guilty in three separate bribery schemes.

Sol Levin, the county's former investment officer, and Thomas O'Donnell, the former treasurer-tax collector, have admitted accepting $4,000 bribes in exchange for routing publicly funded projects to Tisdale's company, Business Consultants.

Tisdale also flew Levin, O'Donnell and another former county official to London in 1997. Prosecutors charge that the county paid some expenses of that trip for Levin and O'Donnell, though Tisdale picked up the tab.

In exchange, Tisdale's firm received a series of county contracts valued at more than $372,000. They included advising the county on employee benefit plans and a study of court fee collections.

Last year, Levin and O'Donnell were sentenced to spend a year and a day in halfway houses. The central figure in the scandal, former San Bernardino County Administrative Officer James Hlawek, will be sentenced this spring.

Also on Monday, San Bernardino County settled its civil case against Ronald H. Canham, a San Diego management consultant who has admitted paying Hlawek $10,000 to receive about $92,000 in consulting work.

In exchange for being dropped from a lawsuit filed last summer in connection with the case, Canham agreed to pay the county $10,250. All told, five of 22 defendants in the civil case have settled, resulting in payments of $6.4 million.

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