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Woman Tied to Judge in Inquiry Indicted

Times Staff Writer

A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted a woman who is believed to be an important witness in a racketeering case that the Justice Department is building against a federal judge in San Jose.

Vera L. Hoff, a former lawyer and friend of U.S. District Judge Robert P. Aguilar, was charged in a three-count indictment in connection with fleeing the country to avoid serving a two-year sentence for a 1978 conviction on income tax evasion.

Federal authorities learned that Hoff was living in Mexico during their investigation of Aguilar, 58. With the help of Mexican authorities, she was arrested in Texas on March 20 and has been held at the federal prison in Pleasanton there.

As part of the investigation of Aguilar, the FBI and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section are looking into whether the judge assisted Hoff either in her escape or during her years as a fugitive.

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The indictment accuses Hoff, who is in her early 70s, of contempt of court, obstruction of justice, and failure to appear. The indictment makes no mention of others who may have assisted her when she was a fugitive.

Sources close to the case say Aguilar, one of three full-time judges assigned to the federal court in San Jose, is likely to be indicted in June. The investigation has been going on for about a year.

“I think it is outrageous, particularly the obstruction count,” said Randy Sue Pollock, a San Francisco attorney who is representing Hoff. “They are trying to push her, and maximize the pressure on her so she cooperates against Aguilar.”

Pollock said Hoff was “willing to cooperate with the government,” but added that the terms of her cooperation were “not resolved, and this is how they retaliated.”

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Transfer of Deed

She said Hoff was not aware that she would be charged with three counts. Because of the seriousness of the case, Pollock added, it is “very possible” that Hoff will opt against helping in the investigation of the federal judge.

When he was an attorney in the 1960s, Aguilar employed Hoff as a legal secretary. Later, he helped to represent Hoff in a tax evasion case. In December, 1979, shortly after Aguilar became a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge, Hoff transferred ownership of her San Jose home to him.

As a state judge, Aguilar had urged a federal judge handling Hoff’s case to allow her to travel to Germany to visit her sick mother, court records show. Hoff fled from California in 1980 when she lost her case on appeal and faced having to report for her imprisonment.

Aguilar was confirmed to the federal bench in June, 1980. In 1982, Aguilar recorded a deed in Santa Clara County showing himself as the owner of what had been Hoff’s home. The following year, Aguilar sold the house to a friend and former client of Hoff.

In addition to the Hoff matter, authorities are looking into circumstances surrounding a $12,000 loan that Aguilar received in 1983, while he was a federal judge, from a former casino owner who later was convicted in a bank swindle.

Additionally, investigators believe that Aguilar last year unsuccessfully tried to influence a fellow member of the bench who was considering whether to revoke the probation of former San Francisco Teamster leader Michael Rudy Tham.

Tham, whose probation was revoked, is serving a five-year sentence. He originally was convicted of embezzling $2,000 in union funds to entertain mobster-turned-informant Aladena (Jimmy the Weasel) Fratianno.

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