An undercover FBI agent testified Tuesday that his efforts to get legislation introduced in the state Assembly suddenly met with a favorable response after he attended a 1986 fund-raiser for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
Agent John E. Brennan, testifying in the corruption trial of former Sen. Paul Carpenter, said he understood that attending the Democratic Speaker's fund-raising event in San Francisco was "a condition of assistance" in introducing the bill.
At the time, Brennan was posing as an Alabama businessman seeking to introduce a bill that would help his shrimp business get a tax break. Shortly after the fund-raiser, Assemblyman Sam Farr (D-Carmel) agreed to let the agent take over a bill the assemblyman had introduced on a different subject, Brennan said.
In the state Capitol, both Brown and Farr denied any connection between the fund-raising event and the bill, which eventually was taken over by Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles).
"I never met the man," Brown said through a spokesman. "I've never even spoken to the man. There is absolutely no connection and he knows there is no connection."
"There was absolutely no causal connection between any kind of fund-raiser discussion" and the bill, Farr said.
Brennan's testimony came during his fourth day on the witness stand in Carpenter's trial. The Norwalk Democrat, elected in 1986 to the State Board of Equalization, is charged with four counts of racketeering, extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion as a result of the FBI sting investigation of corruption in the state Capitol.
During one tape-recorded conversation that was played to the jury, Brennan said to Carpenter that he had attended Brown's lavish fund-raiser.
"I was told I had to go to that," the agent told Carpenter. "The next week a bill was found that I could use, so it worked out very well."
It was unclear from the tape who advised Brennan to attend Brown's event. During his testimony, the veteran agent suggested that the advice came from Darryl O. Freeman, saying he gave the former Assembly aide cash to help promote the bill.
Neither Brown nor Farr has been named as a subject of the FBI investigation. Federal sources say that Freeman remains a target of the probe.
Brennan spent much of the day under cross-examination explaining sections of 22 tape-recorded conversations involving undercover operatives, Carpenter and John Shahabian, a former aide to the senator.
Defense lawyer Gerard J. Hinckley sought to undermine evidence that Carpenter had agreed to help win passage of the dummy FBI bill in exchange for a total of $20,000 in campaign contributions.
At one point, the tapes show, Carpenter suggested he would help the bill along by making sure that Sen. Rose Ann Vuich (D-Dinuba), a critic of the bill, was absent when the measure came up in the Senate Banking and Commerce Committee she chairs. Vuich was absent and the measure passed her committee by a vote of 6 to 0.
Hinckley, replaying a key portion of the tape to the jury, pointed out that Carpenter, Brennan and others in the room laughed when Carpenter said he would make sure Vuich was absent. Vuich, the attorney noted, missed the hearing because she was attending an Assembly committee hearing on one of her own bills.
During the questioning of Brennan, the defense was largely ineffective in shaking the evidence presented in hours of prosecution tapes. Even U.S. District Judge Edward J. Garcia noted the defense attorney's difficulty in challenging Brennan because most of his conversations were tape-recorded. "It's hard to lay a glove on him," the judge said at one point when the jury was absent.
Earlier in the day, Brennan testified that he believed his dealings with the senator would provide him with direct access to Carpenter after he was elected to the Board of Equalization, which oversees a variety of tax matters.
During a tape-recorded luncheon meeting at which Brennan delivered a final installment of $5,000 to the senator, the agent suggested he might approach Carpenter later to help win a tax break for a paper company.
"Hey, man, you've got access," the senator told him.
Brennan told the jury, "I learned from my time in Sacramento that access was hard to obtain. . . . It meant to me I could speak with him when it was necessary."
Times staff writer Virginia Ellis contributed to this story.