Long Beach City Councilman James Wilson was convicted in Los Angeles federal court Wednesday on 21 counts of mail fraud and violating public disclosure laws by failing to report payments from convicted political fixer W. Patrick Moriarty.
The 58-year-old Wilson, a 16-year veteran of the Long Beach City Council, was found not guilty on four other counts of accepting monthly payments from Moriarty through the mail. A probation and sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 16.
He faces the loss of his City Council seat and could receive up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine on each count.
Wilson, who suffers from a heart condition, listened to a long list of guilty verdicts without any visible signs of emotion. Later, he sat at the defense table for about 20 minutes as his lawyer, Terry Amdur, went over the government indictment, charge by charge.
Amdur told reporters that the jury's verdict did not make sense to him because he does not know how jurors could have found his client not guilty on four mail fraud counts and convict him on others. Wilson said he had "no comment."
The prosecutor, Richard E. Drooyan, chief assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said he thought jurors had found the councilman guilty on counts starting a point at which Moriarty increased Wilson's monthly payments from $500 to $1,500.
During his testimony, Wilson said he was aware at the time the payments were increased that Moriarty was reimbursing Financial Loan Consultants for the money the company was paying Wilson, who supposedly was employed as a financial consultant. Moriarty owned half of the firm.
But, after a recess, Wilson returned to the stand and changed his testimony, saying he did not know that Moriarty was, in effect, paying his salary.
Wilson was accused of accepting $54,000 in hidden payments from Moriarty, a wealthy Orange County fireworks manufacturer, from September, 1978, to March, 1983, to back the legalization of fireworks in Long Beach and to lobby in Sacramento for state control of fireworks sales.
Moriarty, who received a seven-year prison sentence Jan. 31 after pleading guilty to seven counts of mail fraud in connection with bribing and corrupting political figures and bankers, testified that he hired Wilson as a personal consultant for $500 a month, then increased the figure to $1,500 a month. Moriarty, scheduled to begin serving his prison sentence this month, said Wilson was hired to introduce him to public officials and to help win passage of legislation that would have meant millions each year to Moriarty's fireworks business.
In defending Wilson, Amdur likened Moriarty to a "cancer" who corrupts people. He charged that Moriarty took advantage of Wilson's respectability and used him to gain access to other black politicians.
The lawyer insisted that Wilson had been paid by Moriarty as a personal consultant. "There was nothing wrong or illegal in that," he said.
According to Drooyan, the investigation into other politicians who Moriarty may have corrupted is continuing. "Each case is different and has to be evaluated. Mr. Moriarty's cooperation will continue."