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South Gate Officials Ordered to Testify

Probe: Council members, treasurer will appear before grand jury in corruption inquiry.

November 07, 2001|RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The South Gate City Council and city treasurer have been ordered to testify this week before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury as part of an ongoing political corruption investigation.

Council critics have reacted to the proceedings with glee. At Monday night's City Council meeting, some residents tauntingly waved plastic handcuffs at officials they hope will soon be indicted.

The grand jury testimony from officials across the city's political spectrum marks a crucial stage in the months-long probe by the Los Angeles County district attorney's public integrity unit.

The targets are unknown, but some law enforcement and city officials think prosecutors are focusing on possible fraud in the city's recent elections.

The grand jury proceedings threaten to further polarize a city caught in a fierce political power struggle between the council majority and two police unions over who should be the next deputy police chief.

Recent council meetings have degenerated into angry shouting matches and jeering. Police and their community supporters say the selection process is a sham and an example of widespread corruption by Treasurer Albert Robles and his three council allies--Mayor Raul Moriel, Vice Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba and Councilwoman Maria Benavides.

"Our belief is that the grand jury will come back with indictments," said Joe Ruiz, a resident and frequent Robles critic.

But Robles dismissed the handcuff-waving and jeering as theatrics.

"I'm not afraid of anything," he said Tuesday. "There is a saying in Spanish: El que nada debe, nada teme. He who owes nothing, has nothing to fear."

At the grand jury proceedings, Councilman Henry Gonzalez said fellow members Hector De La Torre, Ruvalcaba, Benavides and Moriel were scheduled to testify Tuesday. Robles also was scheduled to testify in the secret proceedings, according to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and De La Torre broke with other city officials in declining to be represented by attorneys at taxpayer expense. Both say they don't need representation, and will cooperate fully with investigators.

"I welcome the opportunity. I have nothing to hide," Gonzalez said. "I'm doing my civic responsibility . . . to respond to any question and respond truthfully."

Most observers believe the probe has to do with possible electoral fraud during recent elections. Investigators asked City Clerk Carmen Avalos to bring boxes of election material to the grand jury, according to Gonzalez.

Meanwhile, the selection process for the next deputy police chief took an unexpected turn this week when officials announced that the three leading candidates had declined the job.

The top candidate, Maywood Police Chief Rick Lopez, didn't return calls seeking comment.

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