A felony indictment alleging that Rep. Bobbi Fiedler and her chief political aide offered a $100,000 contribution to lure state Sen. Ed Davis out of the Republican U.S. Senate primary was based in part on a conversation secretly recorded by Davis' campaign manager during a visit to Fiedler's home, sources have told The Times.
A Jan. 12 meeting between Fiedler and her aide, Paul Clarke, and Davis' campaign manager, Martha Zilm, during which Zilm is said to have been wired for sound, climaxed a two-month investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and is believed to have led to Fiedler's indictment.
The sources said they were not privy to details of the conversation on Jan. 12.
Shortly after that meeting, Fiedler was told by investigators for the district attorney's office that she and Clarke were the subjects of a criminal investigation. Both were later invited to testify before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, but declined to appear. The grand jury returned a one-count indictment against them Thursday.
D.A. Fixes Sum at $100,000
The indictment, unsealed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, charges that Fiedler, 48, and Clarke, 39, attempted to persuade Davis, 69, to withdraw from the GOP Senate race by offering his campaign a contribution to retire past debts. A statement released by the district attorney's office fixed the amount of the proposed contribution at approximately $100,000.
Under the California Elections Code, anyone who pays or offers money to a candidate to secure his withdrawal from a political contest is guilty of a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison.
At a late-morning press conference that followed a brief appearance at the downtown Criminal Courts Building, Fiedler asserted that she and Clarke are victims of "ridiculous" charges and said they have done nothing wrong.
Clarke, who also appeared in court, added: "What you are witnessing is one of the greatest political dirty tricks of all time. . . . (We) wish we could give you the whole story now, but our attorneys have advised us against saying anything.
"I will say, however, that we have some very desperate politicians who are trying something that will end up backfiring on them while we go on with our campaign, and we will win the race for the United States Senate." Clarke refused to identify those politicians and both he and Fiedler declined to answer in detail questions about the allegations made against them.
In court Friday morning, attorneys for Fiedler and Clarke persuaded Judge Aurelio Munoz to postpone their formal arraignment until Monday. The judge allowed them to remain free without posting bail.
Fiedler, who was dressed in a dark skirt and blue jacket, and Clarke, who wore a dark charcoal suit, spoke only once in court, answering, "Yes," when Munoz asked if the indictment listed their true names.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Candace D. Beason, who presented the case to the grand jury, and her supervisor in the Special Investigations Division, Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven A. Sowders, refused Friday to discuss the evidence against Fiedler and Clarke.
However, some details of the events that led to the indictment emerged in accounts given to The Times by sources outside the district attorney's office who are familiar with the case.
The initial contact between the Fiedler and Davis campaigns occurred, one source said, early last November, when San Fernando Valley businessman Arthur S. Pfefferman, a Fiedler supporter wh1864397928Moss, a land developer and a Davis supporter.
According to this account, Pfefferman told Moss that he had heard rumors that Davis planned to withdraw from the Senate race, and asked Moss if he thought Davis might endorse Fiedler.
The source, who is familiar with Pfefferman's account of the conversation, said that Pfefferman suggested that Fiedler's organization might be willing to help Davis retire some of his campaign debt.
Moss is reported to have said he would contact the Davis organization and get back to Pfefferman.
Testified Before Jury
Moss and Pfefferman were among the seven witnesses who testified before the grand jury, a witness list attached to the indictment revealed. Pfefferman could not be reached for comment. Moss declined to talk. Pfefferman's attorney, Gerald Chaleff, also refused comment.
At a press conference Friday, Davis described the person who made the initial contact with his campaign organization as a previous contributor whom he trusted. He did not provide a name.
Later, in a televised interview, Davis said he had never considered dropping out of the Senate contest despite reports.
"Under no circumstances would anyone who is substantially in front in a race pull out of the race for any reason whatsoever. I cannot imagine anyone even conceiving of the idea that I would pull out of the race."
But Fiedler was in better shape moneywise. She entered the primary on Jan. 6 with more than $500,000 in her war chest. Davis, who announced a year ago, has spent all of the $500,000 he has raised.
Ventura County D.A. Informed
The allegations against the Fiedler campaign came to the attention of law enforcement officials last Nov. 13, when a so-far unidentified Davis staff member contacted Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury. According to Bradbury, the staffer informed him that the Davis campaign had been approached by a Fiedler supporter who offered to make a substantial contribution to retire Davis' campaign debt if the senator would agree to withdraw from the GOP Senate race.
Bradbury, an active Davis supporter, said he referred the case to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office on Nov. 15, largely because of the conflict of interest involved.
With Davis' consent, Zilm began cooperating in the Los Angeles County district attorney's investigation, sources told The Times.
The initial contact between Pfefferman and Moss eventually led to a series of meetings between Zilm, Davis' campaign manager, and several Fiedler aides, including Clarke and Arnold Steinberg, a Fiedler consultant and pollster, according to several sources familiar with the case.
One source sympathetic to the Fiedler camp said Steinberg met with Zilm twice, on Dec. 2 and Dec. 18, at restaurants in the northern San Fernando Valley. Zilm subsequently met with Clarke at least once and had one or two telephone conversations with Fiedler, the source said.
According to this account, it was Zilm who initiated conversations about a Fiedler contribution to retire Davis' debt.
During her first meeting with Steinberg, the source said, Zilm "said words to the effect, 'George Moss said that you would take care of our $100,000 campaign debt if Ed withdrew and endorsed Bobbi.' "
Davis dismissed the idea as "preposterous," saying, "I'm the last person in the world--I have a good reputation for integrity--to engage in a felony plot with someone for my financial benefit. "
Zilm could not be reached. Davis added, "I've instructed Martha that she could be a material witness in the case and should not talk about it."
The series of meetings between Zilm and members of the Fiedler camp ended with the Jan. 12 gathering at Fiedler's Northridge home, said to be the first time Zilm met Fiedler.
Zilm arranged the meeting, one source in the Fiedler camp said, promising that Davis would show up to discuss his pending endorsement of Fiedler. However, Zilm reportedly arrived alone, explaining that Davis had been delayed.
Wired for Sound
Two independent sources said she was wired for sound.
"It's my understanding that they stiffed Zilm into Fiedler's house with a tape," said one source with connections to the Fiedler camp who asked to remain anonymous.
Davis never arrived. Shortly after Zilm left, one source said, investigators for the district attorney's office showed up and informed Fiedler and Clarke that they were under investigation for a possible felony violation of the elections code.
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gilbert I. Garcetti refused to comment directly when asked if Zilm had been wired for sound during the Jan. 12 or any previous meetings. He said, however, that the case against Fiedler and Clarke does not rely on uncorroborated evidence.
"We were certainly aware of the difficulty of being left with a case where you have one individual saying something and one saying something else. That kind of case can't be prosecuted. . . . One's word versus another's is totally insufficient."
Bristles at Questions
Sowders, head of the special investigations division, bristled at reporters' questions about the possibility that Fiedler and Clarke had been entrapped.
"We were very careful and tried to be as fair as we possibly could in our approach to this," Sowders said, "verifying every step of the way that what we were doing was correct and that we were going in the right direction.