Peter Werrlein Jr., a former mayor of Bell, was sentenced Monday to three years in federal prison and fined $21,000 for holding hidden interests in that city’s poker casino.
In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. also ordered the 52-year-old Werrlein to make a $50,000 contribution to the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives, a private, nonprofit organization that prepares probation reports.
In its report prepared for the court on Werrlein’s behalf, the center had recommended a $50,000 contribution to charity as part of a sentencing alternative “package” that would have sent him to a community treatment center instead of prison.
“I am going to accept the recommendation about the contribution and have it given to the organization that made the recommendation,” Hatter said. “It is to be used by the center to assist indigents who do not have the money Mr. Werrlein has to avail themselves of its services.”
After serving his prison time, Werrlein will be on probation for five years and will have to donate 1,000 hours of community service, as ordered by Hatter.
Additionally, Werrlein, who served on the Bell City Council for 16 years, has already paid the federal government $400,000 as forfeiture of his portion of profits from the gambling operation at the California Bell Club.
In trying to persuade Hatter not to impose a prison sentence, Werrlein’s attorney, Robert M. Talcott, stressed his contributions to Bell as an elected official and businessman.
“It should also be noted that this case does not involve the theft of any funds,” Talcott said, “and, in fact, the city took in over $7 million (from the card club).
But in a sentencing memorandum, co-prosecutors Janet Goldstein and Fred Heather attacked Werrlein’s contention that the reason for authorizing the card club was to produce revenues lost to the city by the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.
At the outset of the memorandum submitted to Hatter, the prosecutors included this exchange from an FBI tape recording of a conversation between Werrlein and government informant John Gasparian:
Werrlein: Now , my full intent from the day I started getting involved with you . . . was to make money.
Gasparian: Naturally, we all had that intention.
Werrlein: It wasn’t to glorify the city and, uh, bring the city $3 million per year. It was to fatten our pockets.
At Monday’s hearing, Goldstein conceded Talcott’s point that the scheme was not conceived by Werrlein, but she argued that he was the “most culpable” of all the participants in carrying it out.
Werrlein, in addressing the judge, asked for “forgiveness,” saying, “The scars will never go away . . . shaming my family, my immigrant parents and the city.”
Former Bell City Administrator John D. Pitts, Santa Monica lawyer Kevin Kirwan and Werrlein pleaded guilty last September to mail fraud and illegally operating a gambling business.
Pitts at that time admitted that he had conceived the idea for a poker club in Bell in 1977 and that a secret partnership was formed, “wherein Werrlein and I were to hold 51% ownership interest . . . and for this we were to use our influence and office (to clear legal obstacles for the opening of the club).”
Pitts and Kirwan will be sentenced next month. The only person sentenced before Werrlein was Whittier jeweler Jean Dadanian, who received a nine-month prison sentence after being convicted of holding the hidden interests for Werrlein and Pitts.