By Helga Gendell
Part XXIV of the Marina del Rey history series continues to address the legal ramifications of then state Sens. Joseph B. Montoya and Alan Robbins.
Part XXIII concluded with the jury selection in Montoya’s bribery trial. The reported business ties between Montoya, Robbins and Mark Nathanson, a Beverly Hills investor who was then a member of the California Coastal Commission and the county Small Craft Harbor Commission, were sourced in Part XXI of the history series.
In a Dec. 22, 1989 Los Angeles Times article titled “Court Hears Tape of Montoya During Sting,” reporter Richard Paddock wrote, “Sen. Joseph B. Montoya, agreeing to promote a ‘special interest’ bill to benefit a shrimp company, told an undercover informant he wanted a $3,000 payment, according to a secret tape recording of the conversation played in court.
“Montoya, in a meeting with Senate staff member John Shahabian, said he would accept $3,000 at a breakfast meeting with a representative of the company and call the payment an ‘honorarium,’ according to the tape.
“But unknown to Montoya, Shahabian was working as an undercover informant for the FBI and the shrimp company was a bogus firm set up as part of a sting investigation into political corruption in the state Capitol.”
The Times article continued, “Montoya (D-Whittier) is now on trial on 12 counts of extortion, racketeering, bribery and money laundering as a result of the sting. Three of the counts relate directly to the shrimp company honorarium, but the rest involve alleged extortion of money from other groups who sought Montoya’s support on various bills from 1985 to 1988.
“Two conversations taped by Shahabian were played in public Thursday for the first time, although some excerpts from the tapes had been released earlier by prosecutors.
“One tape — a conversation with Sen. Alan Robbins — revealed that it was Robbins who first sent Shahabian to Montoya. ‘What it will take with Joe (Montoya) is a little envelope,’ Robbins told Shahabian, according to the tape.
“Robbins (D-Tarzana) turned down Shahabian’s offer of a payment for himself, saying, ‘I don’t need to be taken care of on every bill that comes through,’ according to a transcript of the conversation,” stated the Times article.
“Shahabian told the jury that he began cooperating with the FBI in 1987 after he was snared in the sting. He said he had received a payment of $7,500 from an undercover agent for his help on similar legislation for the ‘shrimp company’ in 1986.
“Shahabian, acting in his role as a representative of the shrimp firm, began to seek assistance from legislators in 1988 for a bill that would help the company receive state bond financing for a shrimp plant in the Sacramento area.”
The Times article reported, “In June, he met with Montoya and asked for the senator’s help when the measure came before the Senate Banking and Commerce Committee, of which Montoya is a member.
“‘Well, it affects just one company,’ Shahabian told Montoya, according to a transcript of the tape.
“‘All right,’ Montoya said.
“‘What is the uh, how can we be helpful to you?’ Shahabian then asked.
“‘Either way, contributions and/or honorariums,’ the senator said.
“Later in the conversation, Shahabian told Montoya that two Republican assemblymen, Pat Nolan of Glendale and Frank Hill of Whittier, were supporting the bill and he would be receiving a total of $10,000,” according to the Times article.
“Both Nolan and Hill remain under investigation by U.S. Attorney David Levi.
“After learning of the amount to be paid to the Assembly Republicans, Montoya told Shahabian, ‘I wouldn’t wanna do more than three. You don’t wanna appear ridiculous. Y’know it’s nice to get help but you don’t wanna appear ridiculous,’ Montoya added.
“At one point in the conversation, Montoya referred to a committee analysis of the bill and said, ‘It does make it very, very clear that it’s special-interest money.’”
The Times article continued, “Shahabian mentioned that it might be difficult for him to arrange an honorarium, which would normally be payment for a speech. Shahabian pointed out that there was no group Montoya could address, only a representative of the ‘company.’
“‘Well, can I meet with him somewhere?’ Montoya suggested. A moment later, he said, ‘We’ll have a breakfast meeting, if need be.’
“A week later, Montoya received a $3,000 check from FBI agent George Murray, who was posing as George Miller, the head of the shrimp company.
“Murray delivered the check at a breakfast meeting, which was videotaped by another federal agent. Prosecutors began playing the tape for the jury Thursday but ran out of time to show any scene that might be incriminating,” according to the Times article.
“During the conversation between Montoya and Shahabian, the two spent far more time discussing honorariums and contributions than what the legislation would actually do.
“Shahabian noted that the ‘company’ had given $20,000 to then-Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress) in 1986. Carpenter, now a member of the State Board of Equalization, also is under investigation.
“Montoya asked whether the company was ‘still doing well on the shrimp. After Shahabian said it was doing ‘quite well,’ the senator said, ‘OK, so they can be helpful.’”
The Times article continues, “Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Panneton, Shahabian told the jury, ‘Sen. Montoya had a reputation of someone who was more helpful to his contributors than to other people.’”
In a Jan. 26, 1990 Los Angeles Times article titled “Robbins Hit by Montoya Trial Fallout,” reporter Bill Boyarsky wrote, “Although he’s not been charged with any offense, the Tarzana Democrat has been hurt by testimony in the [Joe Montoya] trial. A government informant, wearing a secret recorder, taped [Alan Robbins] suggesting that the informant offer $3,000 to Montoya for supporting a bill. Robbins also told the informant it would take about $40,000 to win Senate passage of the bill.
“All of these requests are recorded by Robbins’ staff. When Robbins goes into the budget negotiations, his copy of the budget is indexed with notes containing the requests. As the negotiations move along, Robbins, master of detail, dispenses his favors.”
The Times article continued, “Robbins steered the bill through the Senate, but with a key change: an amendment to allow Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti of Los Angeles to appoint a senator to the new agency’s board. Roberti, one of Robbins’ many debtors, undoubtedly was ready to give the job to Robbins. The senator wanted the appointment so he could increase his local political power.”