The former publicist of J. David & Co. testified Tuesday that he attempted to reconcile personal differences between San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock and former J. David principal Nancy Hoover in late 1981 partly out of concern for Hedgecock’s political future.
However, George Mitrovich, who was public relations director of the now-bankrupt La Jolla investment firm, added that he “didn’t perceive” his advice to Hedgecock to mend relations with Hoover to be a major strategic political decision, characterizing it instead as primarily a desire to see two former friends reconcile.
The purported reconciliation between Hoover and Hedgecock, and the role that Mitrovich played in arranging the truce, is a focal point of the mayor’s felony conspiracy and perjury retrial, which today enters its 14th day of testimony.
Prosecutors contend that the reconciliation between Hedgecock and Hoover--who had embittered Hedgecock by leaving her husband to live with J. David founder J. David (Jerry) Dominelli--was one of the cornerstones of an alleged conspiracy to circumvent the city’s $250-per-donor campaign contribution limit. That truce, prosecutors suggest, was a major factor in the two J. David executives’ decision to funnel tens of thousands of dollars in allegedly illegal contributions to Hedgecock’s 1983 mayoral campaign through a political consulting firm owned by Tom Shepard, a close friend of the mayor.
Hedgecock, however, described Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Wickersham’s portrayal of the reconciliation as being indicative of “the prosecution’s attempt . . . to fill in the blanks in this case.”
“George had in mind a concern about reconciling because (Hoover) could be useful to me politically if I ran for office in the future--period,” Hedgecock said after Tuesday’s court session. “You can’t fill in anything beyond that. You can’t fill in that it was illegal help that he had in mind, or she had in mind, or I had in mind, or all three of us had in mind. This whole prosecution case is filling in the blanks . . . like (prosecutors) want you to hear it.”
Mitrovich, whom Wickersham unsuccessfully sought to treat as an unindicted co-conspirator earlier in the case, told Hedgecock’s eight-woman, four-man jury Tuesday that Dominelli and Hoover agreed to hire him as J. David’s public affairs director in mid-September of 1981 after he told them that he “was in considerable financial distress.”
“Nancy Hoover and Mr. Dominelli said they felt that I had done a lot for the city of San Diego and it was time that something was done for me,” said Mitrovich, the founder and president of the San Diego City Club. Initially paid $3,000 a month, Mitrovich’s monthly pay rose to $5,000 shortly before the firm’s collapse in early 1984. Mitrovich also received use of a company automobile, a four-bedroom house in Del Mar and a company credit card.
Mitrovich acknowledged that he had no background in either banking or investments when he was hired by J. David--a concession that Wickersham tried to use to bolster prosecutors’ contention that, while Mitrovich was on J. David’s payroll, one of his major duties was to work on Hedgecock’s potential mayoral campaign.
However, Mitrovich described his own role in Hedgecock’s 1983 race as “minimal,” adding that he spent “less than 2%" of his time on the campaign. Earlier in the trial, key prosecution witness Harvey Schuster claimed that Hedgecock had told him in early 1982 that Mitrovich planned to spend more than 50% of his time on the campaign.
In addition, Mitrovich noted that at the time he began working at J. David the possibility of a mayoral campaign hinged on whether then-Mayor Pete Wilson would be elected or appointed to higher office. That possibility became a reality after Wilson’s November, 1982, election to the U.S. Senate, which led to the special May, 1983, mayoral election won by Hedgecock.
Pressed by Wickersham to explain his official J. David duties, Mitrovich said that he helped handle the firm’s extensive charitable contributions and wrote company newsletters. In addition, Hoover and Dominelli encouraged him to continue working on City Club affairs and other civic functions, Dominelli said.
“Did your (J. David) activities include work on the Roger Hedgecock campaign?” Wickersham asked.
“No,” Mitrovich answered, adding that he volunteered his personal time to work on Hedgecock’s race.
Shortly after he began working at J. David, Mitrovich testified, he arranged a November, 1981, luncheon at the Hilton Hotel on Mission Bay with Hedgecock and J. David executive Alfred O’Brien at which Mitrovich encouraged then-county Supervisor Hedgecock to reconcile with Hoover. Both personal and political considerations prompted that advice, Mitrovich testified.
Noting that Hedgecock had spoken derogatorily of Hoover after she began living with Dominelli, Mitrovich said that he “was pained by the alienation that existed (and) that their friendship had been disrupted.” In addition, Mitrovich said he believed that if Hedgecock “was going to run for mayor or whatever office . . . it would be important for Nancy Hoover to be a part of his campaign.”
“As a practical political matter, I thought if Nancy Hoover was not involved with Mr. Hedgecock’s future political plans, that that would be a liability for him,” Mitrovich said. Hoover had contributed and volunteered in Hedgecock’s 1976 and 1980 supervisorial campaigns, Mitrovich added.
Hoover occasionally “made passing comments to me that she was providing financial assistance” to Shepard’s political consulting firm, Tom Shepard & Associates, Mitrovich testified. However, Mitrovich repeatedly denied knowing that J. David funds also helped underwrite the firm, in which Hoover and Dominelli invested more than $360,000.
During his cross-examination, defense attorney Oscar Goodman elicited testimony from Mitrovich designed to demonstrate that the reconciliation between Hedgecock and Hoover was never linked to any promises of illegal campaign assistance.
“There was no talk of a deal,” Mitrovich explained.
“Were you sent by anyone to do this?” Goodman asked.
“I was not,” Mitrovich responded.
The defense also has downplayed the significance of the reported reconciliation by noting that, months before the November, 1981, meeting, Hoover contributed the maximum allowable $250 donation to Hedgecock’s political committee and gave him tickets to social and charitable events.
Throughout his questioning, prosecutor Wickersham sought to portray Mitrovich as a key link between Hedgecock and the J. David firm--a “middle man” who purportedly helped insure that both sides benefited from the alleged improper relationship.
Wickersham pointed out, for example, that Mitrovich drafted an August, 1983, letter, later signed by Hedgecock, that recommended approval of J. David’s application for membership on the London International Financial Futures Exchange. Hedgecock, however, has emphasized that he signed dozens of similar letters of recommendation for local companies or individuals, and that J. David had a very favorable reputation at the time the letter was sent.
Mitrovich also wrote a March, 1982, memo to Hoover and Dominelli in which he warned them that J. David’s underwriting of Shepard’s firm and Newsline, an alternative local weekly newspaper that was strongly critical of Hedgecock’s 1983 opponent, former San Diego City Councilwoman Maureen F. O’Connor, could damage the firm’s reputation.
“Was there a political responsibility . . . in your J. David duties?” Goodman asked.
“There were no political responsibilities,” Mitrovich said.
In other testimony Tuesday, Rob Whittemore, a volunteer in Hedgecock’s 1983 campaign, said that Shepard once remarked that he “was willing to go into bankruptcy if necessary” to help Hedgecock win the election. Prosecutors allege that Shepard’s firm lost more than $130,000 on Hedgecock’s campaign in the form of unreimbursed staff and overhead costs. In response, Hedgecock argues that his campaign had a valid contract with Tom Shepard & Associates and that the young firm treated his race as a “loss leader” designed to enhance its reputation.
Whittemore, a lawyer and psychology student, also testified that when he once broached the possibility of soliciting financial assistance from Hoover with Hedgecock and other campaign aides he “got an eerie, awkward silence.”
Goodman attempted to discredit Whittemore by characterizing him as a disgruntled former campaign volunteer who was angry over not being offered a City Hall job after Hedgecock’s 1983 victory.