Temple City's mayor, former mayor and an aide were indicted Wednesday on charges of perjury and soliciting and receiving bribes from a developer in exchange for supporting his $75-million mall project.
Mayor Judy Wong, former Mayor Cathe Wilson and Wilson's campaign treasurer, Scott Carwile, pleaded not guilty to the charges after the 21-count grand jury indictment was unsealed by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg.
Wong, 53, is charged with three counts of perjury, five counts of bribery and one count of solicitation to commit bribery, all felonies. Specifically, she is accused of asking for and receiving about $13,100 in bribes in 2007 and 2008.
Wilson, 76, is charged with three counts each of perjury and bribery. She is accused of asking for and receiving $10,000 in bribes in 2006 and 2007.
Both women are charged with lying on Fair Political Practices Commission disclosure forms. Wilson is also accused of lying in testimony before the grand jury.
Carwile, 50, is charged with four counts of perjury and one misdemeanor count of failing to appropriately manage campaign funds.
Allegations against Wong, Wilson, City Councilman David Capra and others were first raised last year by developer Randy Wang in a civil lawsuit over his mall project. Wang, in response to a suit brought by the city against his development, accused city officials of repeatedly asking him for cash bribes in return for their support of the project.
Wang's attorney, Patrick Duffy, of Monteleone & McCrory, said earlier this year that prosecutors had subpoenaed recorded telephone conversations between the developer and city officials.
In California, it is illegal to record confidential conversations without consent from all parties. However, a person can legally record a private telephone conversation without informing the other party if that person has been threatened with extortion.
Last week, Capra pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of failure to report a campaign contribution and agreed to resign his council post and to a term of probation as part of his plea deal, authorities said. Wang's one-time project manager Jay Liyanage, who allegedly funneled payments to city officials, pleaded guilty in May to bribery and will be sentenced after the trial, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman.
The mayor's attorney, Sanford Perliss, said the charges against his client were without merit and accused Wang of bringing the claims to pressure city officials into making favorable decisions on his project.
"In part, my defense is going to be that his motive in raising such allegations was that he was not getting what he wanted from the City Council," Perliss said.
Wilson's attorney, Robert Wilson, also rejected the allegations and said his client supported Wang's development because she thought it was good for the city.
Neither Carwile nor his attorney could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Some residents and merchants in the San Gabriel Valley city said they were stunned by the bribery charges because both Wilson and Wong are well known and have long been a presence in local politics.
"Everyone's shocked," said Linda Payne, a beauty salon operator who has lived in the city since 1951 and is president of the Chamber of Commerce. "Your heart starts pounding, and you're like, 'Oh, my gosh,' because we know these people."
The Temple City City Council approved the Piazza mall project in May 2006. The project stalled because of a dispute over its management team and the April 2008 lawsuit against Wang for failing to meet project deadlines, according to court documents.
In that case, Wang raised allegations that Liyanage advised him to give $5,000 each to Wong's and Capra's campaigns, and $3,000 to Carwile's unsuccessful bid for City Council. The developer also alleged that Wong later told him that the mayor wanted $48,000 in cash instead of a condo to move the project forward, and that Capra wanted $50,000, according to court records.