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Ex-Official, Attorney Sentenced in Casino Deal

Times Staff Writer

Former Bell City Administrator John D. Pitts was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison for accepting a bribe in the form of hidden ownership in the California Bell Club poker casino.

U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. also sentenced the 57-year-old Pitts’ co-defendant, Santa Monica attorney Kevin Kirwan, 47, to six months, but ordered that he be allowed to serve it in a community minimum security facility instead of prison.

In entering an earlier guilty plea to the corruption charges, Pitts admitted that he had conceived the idea for a poker club in the city of Bell in 1977. He said that his plan called for him and then-city councilman Peter Werrlein Jr. to receive 51% ownership in the club in return for using their city offices to get the club established and opened.

“We knew we couldn’t hold this interest in our own names at that time,” Pitts told Hatter, “so we asked Kirwan if he would hold the interest and he did.”

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Werrlein also pleaded guilty and last month received the harshest sentence in the case, a three-year prison sentence and $21,000 fine. He also forfeited $400,000 in profits he had made from club proceeds.

Discussing Monday’s sentencing of Pitts and Kirwan, Assistant U.S. Atty. Janice Goldstein said she believes “justice was served,” because both Pitts and Kirwan had cooperated with federal investigators. Assistant U.S. Atty. Fred Heather said Hatter imposed the harsher sentence on Pitts “because he was a public official.”

Carl Abajian, 55, and his brother, Daniel, 56, two other defendants involved in holding secret shares in the poker club, also appeared Monday before Hatter, who fined them $20,000 each as a condition of being placed on three years probation.


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