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Yolo Sheriff Reportedly a Sting Target

Times Staff Writer

As an outgrowth of its Capitol sting operation, the FBI is investigating Yolo County Sheriff Rod Graham because of a check he allegedly received from a phony company set up by agents for their undercover activities, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Federal authorities, the sources said, have been looking into allegations that Graham, promising extra law enforcement protection to a business in his jurisdiction, accepted a $1,500 check during his 1986 reelection campaign from Gulf Shrimp Fisheries Inc., one of several dummy companies set up by the FBI.

The same sources also said that Graham received a related $2,000 cash contribution that he failed to properly report.

Graham, in an interview, dismissed the allegations as “puzzling” and inaccurate, and said he had no reason to believe that the FBI was looking into his conduct.

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“I assume the feds would be talking to me by now,” Graham said. “I never received a check from Gulf Shrimp. I’ve never received a check from the FBI. . . . I’ve been scrupulous, as clean as a whistle.”

The sheriff insisted that the only reason he has heard of Gulf Shrimp is because of news accounts of the Capitol sting. And he said he suspects that reports of his involvement in the FBI probe of legislators and their aides originated in the small-town politics of Yolo County.

“People play games,” he said. “It goes with the turf.”

One source familiar with the investigation said the FBI initially had no intention of extending its sting operation into Yolo County, a largely rural area across the Sacramento River from the state capital. But Graham, aggressively seeking campaign funds, found himself caught up in the federal investigator’s net, sources said.

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The Gulf Shrimp check was given to Graham at a luncheon meeting at a Yolo County restaurant, the sources said.

No Report on Contribution

Graham reported no contributions from Gulf Shrimp on his campaign committee reports, as would be required by state law if he had accepted money from the “company,” even if it were presented to him by an intermediary.

In 1986, the sheriff was in the middle of a hot reelection campaign in which he reported spending $24,329 to defeat a former captain from his own department. The tall, 47-year-old sheriff won 54% of the vote.

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The New Mexico-born Graham is a Republican, but by his own description is not a “dyed in the vest” partisan.

Graham’s one-time top assistant, Wendell Luttrull, who helped Graham raise money for the contest but this year was forced out of his job by the sheriff, said he had no comment on the $1,500 check and referred questions to Graham.

But later, in response to a reporter’s question, Luttrull indicated that he believed that Graham did receive a check from Gulf Shrimp. Asked whether he was surprised that no contribution from Gulf Shrimp showed up on Graham’s campaign financial reports, Luttrull replied: “Yes, I am rather surprised that it doesn’t show up.”

Sources said Luttrull, in fact, was present with Graham when he received the Gulf Shrimp check.

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The sting operation--which the FBI officially called “Brispec” for “bribery special interest"--was organized in 1985 and aimed at uncovering corruption in the Legislature.

The sting phase of the ongoing investigation came to an abrupt end on the night of Aug. 24 when 30 FBI agents moved into the Capitol from a hotel across the street to search the offices of four legislators and two legislative aides.

The lawmakers whose files were searched were Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier) and Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier). In addition, Board of Equalization member Paul Carpenter, a former state senator, is also reported to be a target of the federal probe.

Tried to Win Support

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FBI agents, acting as businessmen, tried to win legislative support for two special-interest bills, one in 1986 and one this year. The measures, both sponsored by Assemblywoman Moore, would have “benefited” the bogus companies, including Gulf Shrimp. Agents used hidden audio and video equipment to gather evidence in the sting.

Thus far, no charges have been filed against any of the five lawmakers or four legislative aides who have been identified as subjects of the federal probe. However, a federal grand jury has been briefed about some aspects of the sting, and has begun issuing subpoenas to gather additional evidence.

The investigation into the allegations about Graham is considered to be a spinoff of the Capitol sting, according to sources, and not a direct part of “Brispec.”


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