A crucial videotape to be used in prosecuting Sen. Joseph B. Montoya on federal extortion, racketeering and money-laundering charges shows him accepting a $3,000 check from an undercover FBI agent--a payment made to the senator just for attending the meeting, Montoya's attorney acknowledged Thursday.
However, the attorney, Michael S. Sands of Sacramento, contended that the tape will not prove damaging to the Whittier Democrat. He said Montoya followed California law in accepting, depositing and reporting the payment.
The video of the June, 1988, meeting between Montoya and the undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman and a legislative informant at a restaurant two blocks from the Capitol "just shows three men together at breakfast," Sands said after a brief court appearance.
"I have not seen anything yet in this case that I believe cannot be reasonably explained as part of the legislative process," he said.
Both Montoya and his one-time legislative aide, Amiel A. Jaramillo, who was charged with extortion and racketeering, have pleaded innocent.
In addition to the lone videotape, attorneys for Montoya and Jaramillo have begun sifting through 50,641 pages of documents and numerous audio tapes--apparently made by undercover agents or informants wearing hidden recorders. The documents include campaign reports, bank statements, legislative bills and bill analyses going back 10 years, Sands said.
"It's just indescribable how much there is," he said.
And that is just the beginning. Sands said the defense still has not received transcripts of witness interviews or of the grand jury testimony that led to the May indictments of Montoya and Jaramillo.
Thus far, neither the tapes nor the documents have been made public.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John P. Panneton promised Thursday that prosecutors would pare down the documents to the 2,000 pages most likely to be used in the two cases.
At the brief pretrial hearing, Judge Milton L. Schwartz ruled that the case was complex and unusual enough to allow postponement of a trial for the two defendants for several months. Without that determination, Montoya and Jaramillo might have had to go before a jury by Aug. 21. Sands said it is now unlikely that a trial will begin before November. "It is Sen. Montoya's great desire to have this case presented and tried before the end of the year," Sands said. "It's his intention to go (on) with life and file for reelection."
Montoya was one of four legislators whose Capitol offices were searched by the FBI last August as part of a federal investigation of corruption in the Capitol. The others were former Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier). Sources familiar with the investigation have also identified former Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress), now a member of the State Board of Equalization, as a target of the probe.
Montoya, 50, who chairs the Senate Business and Professions Committee, was one of several legislators who received direct cash payments or campaign contributions from FBI agents posing as businessmen in an elaborate sting operation. The "businessmen" were seeking support for special-interest bills to help them set up a shrimp processing plant in West Sacramento.
Montoya has publicly discussed attending the breakfast meeting with an FBI agent, posing as a businessman, and John Shahabian, a legislative aide who was cooperating with federal investigators. And in March, he reported the $3,000 payment on his required financial disclosure report for 1988.
The payment figured prominently in Montoya's indictment on 10 counts--including one count of money laundering for depositing the allegedly improper payment in a bank account.