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Judge Orders Trial for South Gate Treasurer

Court: Ruling comes after an investigator describes threats Albert Robles allegedly made against two lawmakers and a police lieutenant.

June 11, 2002|RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge on Monday ordered South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles to stand trial after a district attorney's investigator detailed several alleged incidents in which the politician unleashed vulgarity-laced threats against other public officials.

The investigator, Michael Kim, said Robles uttered threats to people close to his alleged victims, and that they were relayed within a few days.

Robles allegedly threatened to rape Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) and shoot Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles) in the head, Kim testified.

Escutia was so fearful that she arranged for bodyguards and notified the Legislature's security team, said Kim. He said another alleged victim, South Gate Police Lt. Vince Avila, started carrying his gun at all hours.

The alleged threat against Avila was relayed to him by a former girlfriend of Robles, Kim said. The girlfriend, he said, told him that Robles considered Avila a "loser" and that "losers deserve to die like a dog."

"The proper way to kill someone is to shoot them in both eyes," Robles allegedly told the girlfriend. Robles "told her to make sure she delivers that message to Lt. Avila," Kim said.

Kim was the only witness in the hourlong preliminary hearing in South Gate Superior Court. After a brief cross-examination in which a defense attorney mostly quizzed Kim about his interviewing methods, Judge Dennis A. Aichroth ordered Robles to stand trial on nine felony counts.

Seven of the charges relate to Robles' alleged threats. He is also charged with owning two illegal, assault-style weapons.

Robles, wearing a black business suit, showed no reaction during the hearing.

He remains free on $500,000 bail and will continue his duties as treasurer and deputy city manager. Robles was appointed to the latter position, at a salary of $111,000, after his arrest in a move that sparked civic protests.

Robles was a lightning rod for controversy long before the threats case. The city's perceived political boss, he has been dogged for years by accusations of corruption and self-dealing. The city is also facing several corruption investigations, some of which target Robles or his allies.

After the hearing Robles expressed confidence that he would be exonerated of the threat charges. He criticized Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley for pursuing what he calls a politically motivated case.

Robles has claimed that he is being prosecuted in retaliation for his political battles with the state legislators. They took opposite sides on a controversial proposal to build a power plant in the city.

"This is a witch hunt meant to destroy my political career," said Robles. "It doesn't matter what Steve Cooley thinks. It's what a jury thinks."

Kim testified that several witnesses heard the alleged threats. One was Francisco Leal, a friend of Firebaugh and a longtime attorney who has worked for several cities in southeast Los Angeles County.

While sitting next to Robles on a flight from San Jose to Los Angeles, Leal said, Robles grew agitated when Firebaugh came up. Leal, according to Kim, said he will never forget what Robles said next.

"I'll have to just take [Firebaugh] out to Tijuana, put him in the trunk of a car and blow his ... brains out," Robles allegedly told Leal.

The alleged threats against Escutia were made at a lunch meeting at a Compton casino, where Robles was meeting with a businessman and a Lynwood politician, Kim said.

The businessman allegedly heard Robles say that, if he could get away with it, he would rape Escutia and kill her husband, Leo Briones. The businessman said Robles repeated the threat several times in a loud, angry voice.

Upon hearing of the alleged threat, Escutia took it seriously, Kim said. Like other alleged victims, he said, Escutia cited Robles' volatile temper, and believed he may have been involved in the 1999 shooting of then-South Gate Mayor Henry Gonzalez. Gonzalez suffered a minor head wound in the crime that has never been solved.

Like Escutia, Avila took precautions against the alleged threats. The lieutenant, Kim said, was warned by Robles' former girlfriend that he should watch his back because she thought Robles was out to get him.

According to Kim, the woman said Robles liked to brag that his brother was a former Mexican Mafia member who was willing to kill for him.

"She said [Robles] has lots of guns and that ... he's crazy," said Kim.

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