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Eaves Has Raised $220,000 for His Legal Defense Fund

Firms that do business with San Bernardino County have given money to the supervisor.

August 05, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

While preparing for his corruption trial, San Bernardino County Supervisor Gerald "Jerry" Eaves has raised more than $220,000 in the last year for a legal defense fund that has included contributions from several companies that do business with the county.

Eaves, who has pleaded not guilty to state bribery charges and is expected to go on trial this fall, is barred from seeking another term under a plea agreement from an earlier corruption conviction. Despite the charges, Eaves said his well-stocked defense fund is a testament to his continued popularity in the county.

"I think people appreciate the job that I've done for the past 20 years," said Eaves, adding that most of his supporters don't believe he is guilty of the char- ges.

Many of his recent contributions came in April when Eaves held a cocktail party in San Bernardino, which was billed as a fund-raiser to defray his legal bills. The state Political Reform Act permits elected officials to raise campaign contributions to pay attorneys' fees to defend against criminal or civil charges that arise from the performance of official duties.

Eaves, a former assemblyman and Rialto mayor, is charged with accepting free trips to a Las Vegas hotel and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for his support for a billboard project on county land in Colton.

Federal prosecutors also are pursuing charges against Eaves on the same alleged crimes.

In the last 12 months, Eaves has accumulated nearly $130,000 in legal bills, with about $43,000 in legal costs still outstanding, according to campaign finance statements submitted last week.

In that same period, Eaves has collected more than $138,000 in cash contributions, plus $83,500 in loans, including loans from his wife, Jena, according to campaign statements.

Among the contributors were Burrtec Waste Industries of Fontana, which was awarded a $84,000 contract in April from the Board of Supervisors to dispose of poultry and eggs that might have contracted exotic Newcastle disease. A month later, Burrtec Waste gave a $1,000 contribution to Eaves. A Burrtec spokesperson could not be reached.

Eaves also received $1,000 from Goforth & Marti, a San Bernardino company that sold the county $145,000 worth of business furniture in February 2001. Stephen Easley, president of Goforth & Marti, said he has supported Eaves for years and doesn't believe the corruption charges are true.

"My impression of him has been that he has always been a man of his word," Easley said. He added that the contract his company has with the county had no bearing on his contribution.

"We have supported all of the supervisors equally," he said.

Eaves also received $1,000 from Platinum Advisors in Sacramento, a lobbying firm that was awarded a $108,000 contract by the county in December to represent the county in the state capital. A company representative said the president of the firm, Darius Anderson, has had a long relationship with Eaves but declined to comment further.

Eaves' campaign finance statement was filed in the same week that his attorney, Donald Jordan, submitted a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real, asking that federal corruption charges be dismissed because the state is prosecuting Eaves for the same charges.

In the letter, Jordan said "the financial burden is necessarily staggering" for Eaves. Jordan said Eaves' ability to raise money for his defense fund is limited because he is a "lame-duck officeholder."

But when Jordan was told that Eaves has raised more than $220,000 in contributions in the last 12 months, he said: "I didn't know he had raised that much."

Jordan said he believes that Eaves still has so many supporters "because so many feel it's so unfair that he is facing all of this for something that is nothing."

In 2001, Eaves pleaded no contest to official misconduct charges, including failing to disclose three free trips to a Canadian fishing lodge, then voting to route public funds to a company associated with those trips.

Under the plea agreement, he is barred from seeking another public office for four years.

In May, Eaves and William S. "Shep" McCook, an Orange County businessman, pleaded not guilty to state charges that McCook gave Eaves more than $6,000 in free stays at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas plus nearly $33,000 in campaign contributions to vote on a lucrative billboard deal that made millions of dollars for McCook.

Despite the allegations, several contributors said they gave to Eaves because he has done a good job of defending the poor and disenfranchised residents in his district, a mostly blue-collar area that includes most of San Bernardino, Rialto, Colton and parts of Fontana.

Roberta Shouse, director of the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino County, contributed $2,000 to Eaves' fund, saying she supports the supervisor and doesn't believe he is guilty of the charges he faces.

"I personally know of a lot of people he has helped," she said. "I always contribute to people who express good values."

Reggie King, a representative for Young Homes LLC, a home developer that works primarily in Eaves' district, said his company gave $1,000 because the supervisor has always been forthright and professional in his dealings with the company.

He said Eaves has never pressed him for large campaign contributions. But he added that Eaves has asked his company to help send needy children to summer camp and donate to support a widow who was struggling to pay her bills.

"I like the way he has acted as a supervisor in his community," King said.

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