A small group of developers and businessmen spent nearly $15,000 on a potent mail blitz in the days before the November election to help defeat former Councilman William M. Molinari and former Treasurer Thomas C. Wong.
All told, the group called Concerned Citizens for Honesty in Government and its individual members spent more than $22,000 to defeat the two incumbents and to support three successful candidates, campaign statements filed last week showed.
The mailers left the Molinari and Wong campaigns reeling before the Nov. 3 election, with allegations of excessive spending and mismanagement of public money. The campaign disclosure statement that Concerned Citizens filed last week also had Molinari fuming.
Molinari said he was attacked because he opposed developments supported by members of the political action committee.
"It's my feeling that these people have very severely disrupted the democratic process in this community," Molinari said in a recent interview. "It certainly has to be considered a major factor in my defeat."
The organizer of Concerned Citizens, Montebello developer Michael Minasian, countered that the group's barrage was a justifiable exercise of its First Amendment right to speak out against two incumbents who were not doing their jobs.
"I think they were unqualified to hold public office," Minasian said in an interview. "A lot of the people in the city were not happy with him. What else can you say? Just tell him better luck next time."
Among the five candidates vying for two council seats, incumbent Art Payan spent the most--$51,344--to retain his seat, the statements indicated. Molinari, who took office in 1982 and lost his seat after one term, spent $38,801. Newly elected Councilwoman Kathy Salazar spent $16,284, and candidate Art Rangel spent $10,540 in his unsuccessful election bid.
In the race for treasurer, Phillip M. Ramos spent $26,265 to beat incumbent Wong, who spent $10,888 seeking reelection to what would have been his second term. Ramos is a former Montebello councilman.
Nick Valdez, another candidate for treasurer, did not file a detailed campaign statement because he spent less than $500, a spokesman said.
Minasian provided $3,600 in contributions and loans to fuel the attack by Concerned Citizens. Other contributors were:
David Perrin, president of the Vorado Corp. of Santa Ana, and Quiet Cannon Inc. of Montebello, $950.
K.L. (Bucky) Dennis, president of KLD Management of Santa Ana and Perrin's business associate, $4,458.
Phillip Pace, a Montebello developer who heads Pace Development Co., $4,301.
The first salvo in the attack came last Oct. 19 when Minasian sent a letter to the Los Angeles County district attorney requesting an investigation of the Molinari campaign.
Minasian accused Molinari of a number of improprieties, including failing to accurately report campaign expenditures. The allegations were reported by the press and carried in Concerned Citizens' mailers, which underscored that "even the district attorney has been asked to investigate Councilman Molinari" for violations of state law.
The district attorney's office forwarded the complaint to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which found no basis for further investigation of the allegations.
"It gave people the impression I was guilty of some wrongdoing without having any basis whatsoever," Molinari said. "The allegations were totally false and the only purpose of them was to smear me . . . "
Minasian rejected the FPPC's conclusion, but said he would not pursue the matter any further because Molinari lost his seat on the council.
"It's water under the bridge," Minasian said. "It doesn't bother me now."
The mailers by Concerned Citizens accused Molinari of excessively spending taxpayer money on trips, campaign reporting violations and other allegations that Molinari says are false.
The mailers accused Wong of costing the city $4.4 million in bad investments in 1984. Wong, who was elected in 1982, has blamed the council for the loss, saying it decided to sell too quickly when the value of the securities plummeted.
Concerned Citizens also attacked Wong's claim that he was a certified public accountant. A spokeswoman for the state Board of Accountancy said at the time that Wong had passed the state accounting exam but had not been certified. Wong had still not been certified last week, a spokeswoman said.
"Wong was claiming all along he was a CPA and he wasn't a CPA," Minasian said. "He was lying."
Before the election, Wong apologized and admitted he had boasted prematurely. Wong, who has since left his job at a Santa Monica accounting firm and now works for a Phoenix, Ariz., company, did not return calls for comment last week.
Minasian said he also opposed Molinari and Wong for what he called "grand-standing" that divided the City Council and the community.
Minasian cited the presence of Molinari and Wong at a 1983 demonstration in front of a local Armenian church, calling for the clean-up of the Operating Industries Inc. landfill.
Gov. George Deukmejian and other Armenian governmental and religious dignitaries were visiting at the Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Church at the time. Minasian said it was a slap at Montebello's Armenian community.
Molinari said he thought that ceased to be an issue long ago. "I have publicly apologized if anyone in the Armenian community was offended by my action," Molinari said.
In response, Molinari speculated that he drew the wrath of the political action group because of his opposition to certain business interests and his efforts to control development in the city.
Perrin, his son Brad Perrin, and Dennis individually or collectively run several Los Angeles area restaurants, including the Quiet Cannon restaurant and discotheque in Montebello.
Last August, the City Council voted 3 to 2 to approve an expansion of the Quiet Cannon, which is operated on city property by Quiet Cannon Montebello Inc. David Perrin is president of Quiet Cannon Montebello Inc. The council also voted to spend $1.1 million on a city parking lot to accommodate the expansion.
The council majority contended that the expansion would bring in sufficient lease and tax income to warrant the expenditure, and the additional parking space was needed for the city golf course anyway.
But Molinari voted against both measures. He contended that the expansion would bring unwanted noise and crime into the community. And he said the city should spend the $1.1 million on a new fire station instead of a parking lot.
"Mr. Perrin very generously rewards those who support what he's trying to do and very severely punishes those who oppose him," Molinari said.
Molinari also noted that Minasian wants to build a hotel next to the Quiet Cannon, a proposal Molinari opposed when he was on the council. To build that hotel, Minasian would have to acquire food and beverage rights, which are held by the Quiet Cannon.
Reasons Happened to Converge
Minasian said he did not oppose Molinari to clear the way for his hotel project or to win favor with the Perrins to obtain the food and beverage rights.
"The Perrins had their own reasons for it (opposing Molinari and Wong)," Minasian said. "It (their different reasons) happened to converge in the same opposition."
The Perrins and Dennis did not return telephone calls seeking their comments last week.
Another factor in the attack, Molinari theorized, was that he had voted to control development on several occasions as a councilman. For example, Molinari said, he voted in 1986 to limit density of new apartment buildings in the city.
Pace, a former city treasurer who develops and owns numerous residential and commercial developments in the city, was out of town and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said. Pace and Molinari became bitter election enemies after the 1982 race, in which Molinari supported Wong in his successful campaign to unseat Pace.
Wife Spent $1,805
Pace's wife, Phyllis, spent $1,805 during the election, at least part of which paid for a mailer opposing Molinari and Wong.
Concerned Citizens, its individual members and their companies also contributed to candidates opposing Molinari and Wong.
Quiet Cannon Inc. contributed $1,000 to Payan's campaign, while Phillip Pace contributed $500, campaign statements show.
Pace contributed $385 to Salazar's campaign.
Contributions to Ramos' campaign for treasurer included $2,000 from Dennis, $500 from Minasian, $3,000 from the Perrins, $1,000 from Pace and $2,052 from Concerned Citizens.
Payan declined to comment on the role Concerned Citizens played in the election. Salazar and Ramos could not be reached for comment.