Robert Citron, treasurer at center of O.C. bankruptcy, dies


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Robert L. Citron, the soft-spoken Orange County treasurer whose bad bets on exotic Wall Street investments resulted in what in 1994 was the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, died Wednesday.

He was 87.

Until the 1994 financial collapse, Citron was a low-key bureaucrat who won praise from Orange County supervisors for earning much higher yields from the county’s complex array of investments than many other government agencies.


But after interest rates shifted, the county investment fund was hit by losses totaling more than $1.64 billion. The county declared bankruptcy in December 1994, sending shock waves through the municipal finances markets and Wall Street.

A grand jury investigation would later find that Citron, who over the years won so many awards for his investment skills, relied upon a mail-order astrologer and a psychic for interest rate predictions as the county’s treasury began to falter.

Citron eventually pleaded guilty to six felony charges for skimming money from Orange County cities, schools and other agencies into county government accounts. He served a year in jail, where he was allowed to work in the commissary.

A third-generation Californian, Citron was born in Los Angeles in 1925 and grew up in Burbank. Because he had asthma as a child, his family moved out of the smog into the town of Hemet. His father, Jesse, was a doctor who earned a measure of fame for being liquor-loving W.C. Fields’ physician who weaned him off Scotch.

Citron rose through the ranks of the county’s treasury department to become county treasurer-tax collector, a post he has held for 24 years. He lived in Santa Ana, just a few miles from work, and was famous for his long hours.

In a 1994 interview, his wife, Terry, told The Times that the weekends were hardest for her husband because he could not go to work.

‘He can barely stand the weekend at home,’ she said. ‘He can’t wait to get back. I think he’d go crazy without that job.’

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-- Scott Reckard and Shelby Grad