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South Gate Official Posts $500,000 Bond, Is Released

Court: City Treasurer Albert Robles denies murderous threats against public officials.

April 12, 2002|RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The same day that a judge called him a serious threat to the community, South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles posted an unusually high $500,000 bail Thursday and returned to his tense city.

Robles was charged with making murderous threats against public officials, and ordered to keep at least 100 feet away from witnesses or victims. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In a stern warning, Superior Court Judge Dennis A. Aichroth ordered Robles to depart immediately if chance brings him together with anyone involved in the case, including two state legislators. "If the defendant has half a brain, and I'm sure he does, he'll leave," Aichroth said.

Then, focusing on Robles, he added, "Because otherwise someone is going to make an accusation, sir, that you have harassed them and the next thing you know, you will be in here and the bail will be $1.5 million."

While preparing for the return of the volatile politician, the city learned Thursday, in a separate development, that the FBI has opened a political corruption investigation in South Gate.

Subpoenaed late Wednesday, the city clerk was ordered to turn over all documents involving professional service contracts, which include attorney and consultant agreements.

It is not clear if the FBI probe is related to Robles. But news of the investigation, combined with the Robles case, seemed to push tensions to the boiling point. After a City Council meeting Wednesday, two councilmen had to be separated by police after a heated shouting match.

"I think there's a tremendous desire to move the city in a positive direction, but it can't as long as this stuff is going on," said the Rev. Charles N. Brady, who has held weekly prayer vigils outside City Hall.

Robles' release came after a contentious hearing in which a judge sided with a prosecutor's unusual request that bail be set at $500,000--double the usual amount for such cases.

Susan Chasworth, assistant head deputy of the district attorney's public integrity unit, argued that people "are in fear, and continue to be in fear."

When it appeared that Robles would raise the bail--family members offered to help--Chasworth asked the judge to determine if the funds came from legitimate sources.

Prosecutors alleged that Robles might possibly divert money from the city treasury or his political action committees to raise bail money. The judge concluded that the bond came from a reputable bail bond agency and ordered Robles' release.

When Robles explained that he recently had been at a fund-raiser also attended by one of his alleged victims, state Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier), Aichroth warned him to avoid such functions and leave promptly if he encountered someone involved in the case.

South Gate police would not comment on whether special security precautions would be taken. But authorities in similar situations typically increase patrols around witnesses' homes.

Robles has been charged with threatening four people, including Escutia, Assemblyman Marco Antonio Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles) and a police officer. He also is charged with possessing two illegal weapons.

Prosecutors allege that Robles threatened to rape Escutia and kill her husband, Leo Briones. They also allege that Robles threatened to "blow the brains out" of Firebaugh.

If convicted on the nine counts, Robles faces a potential eight-year prison term.

During the hearing, Robles--attired in a black business suit, his hands handcuffed behind him--largely kept silent, except to answer questions.

Released late Thursday, he was not available for comment, but his attorney, Tom Brown, denied that he posed a danger. He said Robles would resume his normal duties as treasurer.

"If Albert was a serious threat, then the [district attorney's office] two years ago would have arrested him, when the alleged threats were actually made," Brown said.

Robles' release generated mixed reactions in the courtroom, packed mostly with Robles' enemies, but also some of his family members. Robles' opponents were dejected when he was able to post bail. "He is a threat to the community ... Albert has been threatening people for the last five or six years," said Joe Ruiz, a harsh critic.

Robles says he is the victim of a politically motivated case in retaliation for standing up to his political enemies. Over the years, Robles has been at odds with Escutia and Firebaugh on numerous issues. He admits using harsh language, but said it merely reflects strongly held views.

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