Moriarty Associates Ruefully Recall His Manipulative Side

Times Staff Writers

In the glory days, the name W. Patrick Moriarty was synonymous with money, expensive restaurants, high-priced prostitutes and sure-fire business deals for some of California’s more prominent politicians.

Moriarty was a politically important force in the state.

People came to him. They would wait hours in his outer office for a chance to talk with him for only a few minutes. Politicians showed up for money for their campaigns. Businessmen saw him as a source of capital for new projects and friends, associates and even politicians entrusted him with millions to invest.

He was surrounded by a cadre of loyal lieutenants who took care of his business and personal needs while they bathed in the glow of their boss’ power and personality. Moriarty often was characterized by friends and associates as a “super salesman” who could sell anything to anyone.

Looks Were Deceiving

But, as many of those now disillusioned associates say, Wallace Patrick Moriarty, the affable and generous fireworks entrepreneur with seemingly unlimited financial resources, was never quite what he appeared to be.

“He would always seem to be generous,” said a former acquaintance of Moriarty. “He’d take us on trips to Hawaii, those extra little gifts and the subliminal promise that he would always take care of you. But whatever he gave, he expected to double his return. He used everyone. He got it back by making people do things they really did not want to do.”


It was this double edge to Moriarty’s personality that caused his fall from prominent, respected businessman to a convicted briber and political corrupter--a tumble that began in early 1983 when his tangled financial affairs began to unravel and ended Friday when he was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.

Moriarty, 54, refused numerous requests to be interviewed.

Started Fireworks Business

The seeds of his fireworks business, which was to become one of the largest “safe-and-sane” fireworks firms in the nation, were sown in the late 1940s. He and his brother, James, began reselling fireworks that the two youngsters had bought from the government, which had confiscated them from Japanese who were sent to wartime internment camps.

He graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma in 1955 with a degree in business administration and moved to California in 1958, after a three-year stint in the Air Force.

Over the next two decades, Moriarty built a successful fireworks enterprise in the firm of Pyrotronics Corp. and created an image of himself as a good family man who was extraordinarily generous to his six children. He was active in the Catholic Church and numerous charities, like the Big Brothers organization.

In the late 1970s Moriarty began to diversify his business interests, paying less attention to the fireworks business--although still maintaining control--and acquiring new businesses and new associates, like Richard Raymond Keith, and expanding into myriad land development, solid waste and other projects that held the promise of huge financial returns.

About 40 Businesses

Through the years, Moriarty has owned, managed or invested in nearly 40 businesses, ranging from a cat litter mine to a Christmas tree farm.

Despite the fact that few of the enterprises were financially successful and banks have filed numerous lawsuits against Moriarty, his personal life style always reflected wealth.

At 5-feet-8 and about 155 pounds, the brown-haired, blue-eyed Moriarty is an ordinary-looking man who could disappear in most crowds. But his clothes (expensive Louis Roth suits designed for the “full-cut” American male, Swiss-made Bally shoes and Countess Mara ties) came from Factor Rothschild of Beverly Hills, where his sizes are on file. When Moriarty wanted new clothes, one of his longtime employees was dispatched to pick them out.

And when Moriarty wanted to vacation in Hawaii, he took along his family and friends, stayed at an ocean-side estate owned by a business partner and brought suitcases full of frozen prime meat from his neighborhood butcher.

Chaotic, Successful Time

John E. (Pete) Murphy, who was at Moriarty’s side for nearly two decades, remembered those days as a time of chaotic success, when he would bounce from handling the specialized insurance needs of the fireworks industry during the day to tending bar in an Anaheim hotel at night for a party to impress associates--for whom Moriarty would provide prostitutes.

Among his other assignments, Moriarty would send Murphy on flights to the San Francisco Bay Area with packets of cash for California Canadian Bank executive Floyd Walden.

Walden is serving a federal prison sentence for taking kickbacks from Moriarty on millions of dollars in loans that the businessman obtained from California Canadian.

‘I always thought Patrick could take care of any problem,” said Murphy, who died of cancer last August. “Looking back on it now, it was as if he thought he was above the law.”

Others shared Murphy’s view.

‘The Guy Was a Master’

“To be in Pat’s favor was almost as good as being touched on the head by the Lord himself,” said one former associate. “The guy was a master. Even today--there’s no love lost--but even today, I’d put my money on him.”

From his plush office (private shower, wet bar, stereo) at Solid M, a corporation he established to handle non-fireworks business projects, Moriarty worked his “razzle-dazzle” on prospective investors, said the former associate, spending hours on the telephone where he “was most effective” but also swaying those who endured the long wait in the outer office by “making them feel privileged to be sitting in front of the guy” once they entered his office. “By the time he got done, they were begging to get into whatever (business deal) he offered.”

For arranging loans for his many business ventures, bankers were given substantial kickbacks. Politicians were invited to double their money by investing in a Moriarty condominium project. And both bankers and politicians, according to Moriarty’s associates, were treated to nights on the town, including visits to a plush Beverly Hills penthouse where drinks, buffet dinners and expensive prostitutes were available.

Since Orange County district attorney’s investigators began probing Moriarty’s financial and political dealings in 1983, 10 men have been indicted or convicted, or pleaded guilty to felonies involving bribery of public officials and bankers, illegal laundering of campaign contributions and income tax evasion, bank fraud and bankruptcy irregularities.

One banker was acquitted of Internal Revenue Service violations.