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Corona Official's Votes Criticized

August 27, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Corona Councilman Jeff Bennett voted on lucrative redevelopment deals that provided millions of dollars in land and financial aid to a man who later became his business partner and political contributor and who owns a string of car dealerships in the Inland Empire.

Riverside County prosecutors said Bennett did not violate the state's conflict-of-interest laws, but his critics on the City Council said Bennett's actions, at the very least, raise troubling questions.

"When the public hears that an elected official votes to give his business partner millions of dollars, it makes us all look bad," said Councilman Darrell Talbert.

Bennett, who is seeking his fourth council term, called the criticism baseless.

"There's nothing I have done that [has] ever compromised my position," he said. "I never tried to make a dollar off of this city."

Arthur "Bud" Gordon became Bennett's business partner in July 1998, when Gordon invested in a Bennett company. Gordon has supported Bennett's political campaigns.

Six months before the partnership, Bennett and his council colleagues approved an agreement that gave Gordon's business three parcels of land, valued at $1.6 million, to expand his Quality Toyota dealership. The city's redevelopment agency also provided up to $400,000 in assistance. In return, Gordon promised the city $4 million in sales tax revenue over 15 years.

In October 2002, the council approved providing $600,000 in business assistance to make improvements at Gordon's Quality Hyundai dealership and to open another dealership. In return, the city would receive $200,000 annually in sales-tax revenue. Both agreements were approved on 5-0 votes."

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