Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Frank Vicencia's insurance agency landed $40,000 worth of business from a poker club controlled by businessman W. Patrick Moriarty after Vicencia supported controversial fireworks legislation backed by Moriarty.
Vicencia, a Bellflower Democrat, said there was no connection between his support of the fireworks bill and the business his insurance agency got from the California Commerce Club. Describing it as "a routine business transaction," the 54-year-old Democrat said he did not receive any direct benefit from the insurance commissions paid to his agency by the club.
Gets Salary Only
"Those commissions don't go into my pocket," said Vicencia, who owns 75% of the firm. "All I get is a salary from the agency."
Moriarty's attorney, Jan Lawrence Handzlik, said his client would have no comment on the Vicencia matter or anything that could come under investigation.
Vicencia is one of 17 current or former public officials identified by The Times as having business links to Moriarty, who has pleaded guilty to federal public corruption charges and has agreed to tell investigators about his personal and financial dealings with state and local political figures.
The fireworks bill had cleared the Assembly and was awaiting Senate action in the summer of 1982 when Vicencia, Moriarty and two of their employees say they discussed using Vicencia's firm--Gene List Insurance Services Inc.--to handle Moriarty's insurance needs.
At various times, they talked about using Vicencia's insurance agency for both Moriarty's flagship fireworks company, Pyrotronics Corp., and the City of Commerce poker parlor Moriarty financed and controlled.
The highly specialized fireworks insurance, with annual premiums of between $400,000 and $500,000, never went to Vicencia because everyone concerned agreed that it was too complicated for the company to handle. The commission on such an account normally is about 10% of the premiums--$40,000 to $50,000 a year.
Vicencia's agency did get the insurance covering construction and later most operations of the club. The agency also handles the insurance on Moriarty's house in La Mirada.
The club, touted at its 1983 opening as the largest poker parlor in the world, was thrust into the public spotlight last November when a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Moriarty, Las Vegas gambler Frank Sansone and four former City of Commerce officials on a variety of mail fraud, bribery and racketeering charges.
Sansone was found guilty Friday of four bribery-related counts, while being acquitted on racketeering charges. All others in the case have pleaded guilty.
Peter Buckley, a vice president of Vicencia's agency, said the company received about $40,000 in commissions from the card club insurance account that ran from the beginning of 1983 to mid-1984.
Vicencia denied that there was any connection between Moriarty's insurance business and his support of the fireworks legislation. The fireworks bill cleared the Legislature in the fall of 1982, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
"We bid on the account in 1983 and won the account and bid again in 1984 and lost it," Vicencia said.
But there were no bids on the card club insurance, according to former Moriarty associates Albert Hole, who was in charge of the construction of the card club, and John E. (Pete) Murphy, Moriarty's in-house insurance expert.
When told what Hole and Murphy said, Vicencia responded: "We assumed there was a bid. We submitted a proposal for the insurance. We assumed there were other bids on the insurance."
Even Haig Kelegian, a member of the board of directors for the card club and an insurance broker, said he thought he was going to get the insurance account that was given to Vicencia. Kelegian added that the policy, which covered liability and workmen's compensation, went to Vicencia's agency without competitive bidding.
Vicencia's involvement with the fireworks legislation began in August, 1981, when he was chairman of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee.
An innocuous measure by Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) dealing with the size of fire hose couplings was amended in the committee. The new version of the bill prohibited local governments from banning the sale of so-called "safe-and-sane" fireworks, the kind manufactured by Moriarty's company.
In August, 1981, the bill cleared Vicencia's committee on an 8-2 vote, the exact majority needed for approval by the 14-member committee. Vicencia, as committee chairman, presided at the hearing and voted for the measure.
Vicencia again voted for the bill a few weeks later, when the now-controversial legislation was passed by the full Assembly on a 42-31 vote, just one more than the necessary majority, and returned to the Senate for concurrence in changes made by the Assembly.
The measure languished in the Senate for almost a year before coming to a final vote. It was while the bill was pending in the Senate that Moriarty, Vicencia, Buckley and Murphy held a luncheon meeting to discuss whether Vicencia's agency could handle insurance for the fireworks company, according to Murphy.
Murphy said that after the luncheon meeting and two follow-up sessions "it was finally agreed that the (fireworks) insurance was too complicated for Mr. Vicencia's agency. But the card club insurance came up, and they took that. It was a less complicated insurance account."
Vicencia and Buckley agreed that there was a luncheon meeting with Moriarty and Murphy but said that it dealt primarily with the card club, not with fireworks. Vicencia, however, said fireworks were discussed although they were not the primary focus of the meeting.
In addition to the insurance accounts, Moriarty gave Vicencia a small birthday present in August, 1981--a "silver-framed photo"--worth $35, boxes of fireworks for Vicencia and his staff worth $280 in 1982 and again in 1983 and a $2,500 campaign contribution in June, 1981.
Listing of Account
Vicencia reported receiving the campaign contributions and gifts on required state disclosure forms, but failed to list the card club insurance account until early this year after being questioned by newspaper reporters.
Former Moriarty associate Richard Raymond Keith says he was present at a meeting where lobbyist Frank Michelena told Moriarty that Vicencia wanted the insurance on the card club. Keith contends that Vicencia received the insurance account for supporting the fireworks bill and a later bill dealing with poker clubs.
Vicencia said he knew nothing about the meeting.
"I have no control over what people say at meetings at which I am not present. I have no way of knowing what was said," Vicencia said.
He said neither the fireworks bill nor the card club measure had anything to do with getting the insurance account.
"I intended to vote for the fireworks bill all along," he said. "The people in my district wanted that bill." Michelena also disputed Keith's allegation.
"That is absolutely not true," Michelena said. "I don't know what his (Keith's) problem is. I'm not a psychiatrist, but he may be trying to cover up his own problems."
Keith has pleaded guilty to six counts of bankruptcy fraud, income tax evasion and making false statements to a bank and also has agreed to cooperate with federal and Orange County prosecutors probing Moriarty's relations with public officials.
Before his guilty plea, Keith's attorney, Sylvan Aronson, prepared a document detailing criminal activity Keith said he had witnessed while he was associated with Moriarty. The document, Keith said, was given to prosecutors during preliminary plea bargaining negotiations.
Keith's preliminary negotiation document, which he revealed in an interview with The Times last December, listed two situations involving legislators.
One was the conversation in which Keith said Michelena told Moriarty that Vicencia wanted the insurance account. The other involved Assemblyman Richard Floyd (D-Hawthorne) and state Sen. Ralph Dills (D-Gardena).
At a luncheon meeting in 1981, Keith said, Moriarty asked Floyd "what it would take" to get Dills' support of the Moriarty-backed fireworks bill. Floyd was Dills' chief administrative aide before being elected to the Assembly in 1980.
"Pat asked Dick Floyd what he wanted to vote on (SB) 999 (the fireworks bill) and provide his support in lobbying Sen. Dills. Dick Floyd said he would do it for three tables (to a fund-raiser) which was $7,500. Pat said 'fine' and Dick Floyd delivered Mr. Dills," said Keith. Keith said he gave this information to federal and state investigators.
Floyd remembered the meeting but insisted there was no money deal struck. He recalled Moriarty's question about how to get Dills to vote for the fireworks bill.
"I told him to go talk to Dills," Floyd said.
Dills said he would not comment on Keith's allegations.
Aide Recalls 'Bantering'
Bruce Unruh, who was then working as an aide to Floyd, also attended the luncheon and recalled "bantering" conversation about "some fireworks bill."
"They were talking about some problem. They did mention Dills," said Unruh, the son of State Treasurer Jess Unruh.
Unruh said Floyd told Moriarty he would be "happy to talk to Ralph about it (but) the decision was Ralph's."
Floyd received a $1,500 campaign contribution in late 1981 from a Moriarty-owned company, Casa del Amo Estates, and Dills in early 1982 received a $5,000 contribution from Moriarty's wife, Doreen.
Both Floyd and Dills voted for the fireworks bill.