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Carson Official Seeks Reforms, Ethics Panel

November 28, 2002|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

A Carson city councilman called Wednesday for the creation of an ethics task force in response to last week's arrest of current and former council members accused of extorting bribes from companies seeking contracts for waste hauling and other jobs.

During a news conference attended by a crowd of Carson residents, Councilman James Dear said the charges should serve as a catalyst for cleaning up the city's government.

"We need a revolution of reform in Carson," said Dear, one of two current council members who are not charged in the case.

Dear said the city should begin work immediately on formation of a task force that would include private citizens willing to put in months of meetings and research.

He said creation of the task force should be the first in a series of reforms that should include establishing tough campaign contribution guidelines and a code of ethics for council members.

But not all in the crowd were impressed with his talk of reforms.

Some said they had been fruitlessly calling for the formation of such a group since word of the corruption probe surfaced several months ago.

Some portrayed Dear as a Johnny-come-lately trying to advance himself, now that his colleagues have been charged.

"He's an opportunist," said Dianne Thomas, a member of the Carson Neighborhood Council.

That group, she said, has been calling since June for an ethics committee that would include private citizens, business people, a council member and journalists.

She said that, at a City Council meeting, a majority of the council had dismissed her group's suggestion for a committee and that Dear had not spoken in her favor.

"Now we have had indictments, and here he is having a press conference," Thomas said.

The charges against the city officials and others stem from an FBI investigation into the awarding of city contracts.

Last week, authorities arrested Carson Councilman and Mayor Daryl Sweeney and former Mayor Pete Fajardo. They were charged with extorting money from businesses over the last three years.

Charged with related crimes were City Councilwoman Raunda Frank and former City Councilman Manny Ontal.

Authorities say that Ontal worked under cover while the FBI investigated. He agreed to plead guilty to one count of accepting a $5,000 payoff from a city contractor and of failing to report $33,000 in consultant's income on his tax return.

The grand-jury indictment portrayed Sweeney, 45, as the ringleader.

Others investigated by the FBI:

* Robert Dennis Pryce Jr. -- Sweeney's personal lawyer -- charged with helping to arrange some of the bribes.

* Garland Hardeman -- a former Inglewood councilman and former Los Angeles police officer -- charged with attempting to arrange bribes for council members. Court records show he has agreed to plead guilty.

* Two Browning-Ferris Industries executives -- charged with agreeing to pay nearly $600,000 in bribes through Pryce late last year.

* Michael Aloyan -- president of Compton-based Hub City Solid Waste -- alleged to have agreed to pay a $1.5-million bribe to Ontal. Court documents show that he has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with authorities.

After the news conference, Dear dismissed the accusations that he had not shown interest in reforms before.

"I'm inviting them to participate," he said about the community members who have been working on the issue.

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