Former state Sen. Paul Carpenter said Tuesday he was “stupid” to accept $20,000 from an undercover FBI agent but predicted he will be found innocent of federal corruption charges.
The Los Angeles County Democrat, now a member of the State Board of Equalization, has maintained that he knew he was the target of a sting investigation and took the money as part of his own “reverse sting.”
“It was stupid of me to think that I could play games with the FBI money, but I broke no laws in doing so,” Carpenter told reporters during a break in his trial.
Carpenter’s comments came as his defense presented nine more witnesses--including several senators and former staff members--to rebut prosecution charges that the former state senator traded his official actions for campaign contributions.
He is charged with two counts of extortion, one count of racketeering and one count of conspiracy in connection with his receipt of the $20,000 from the undercover agent and the alleged solicitation of other campaign contributions from Capitol lobbyists.
Among those who testified on Carpenter’s behalf Tuesday was former Assemblyman Louis J. Papan (D-Millbrae), who portrayed the senator as a politician whose integrity was unquestioned.
“I would say that Sen. Carpenter was one of the most honest members of the Legislature,” Papan told the jury.
Papan also testified that it was commonplace for legislators to solicit contributions from interest groups at the same time they were carrying legislation that would benefit the groups.
“I have carried bills and other legislators have carried bills and received contributions,” he said. “I would say it’s a standard practice.”
Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Atty. John P. Panneton, Papan acknowledged that Carpenter had sought to hire him as the top staff member of the Board of Equalization. After other members of the tax board rejected the move, Carpenter helped Papan run this year in an unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the board, he said.
Outside the courtroom, Papan told reporters that he paid a visit to federal prosecutors after Carpenter was indicted earlier this year and argued that the charges should be dropped. Joining him, he said, was former state Sen. Dennis Carpenter (R-Newport Beach), now a lobbyist. Both Papan and Dennis Carpenter are former FBI agents.
During cross-examination, Papan and Panneton battled over whether it was important for lawmakers to separate their legislative activities from solicitations to lobbyists for campaign contributions.
“What they (lobbyists) thought at the time they made the contribution was strictly up to them,” Papan responded. “That’s not to say the wheels weren’t turning in their minds.”
But after persistent questioning, Papan acknowledged that it would be “inappropriate” for a legislator to refuse to talk to a lobbyist simply because the lobbyist had not donated money.
The issue is significant because Carpenter is accused of refusing to discuss legislation with four lobbyists and a Southern California businessman because they had not contributed to his campaign fund.
U.S. District Judge Edward J. Garcia has called a weeklong recess while he is out of town on business and vacation. Carpenter is expected to take the stand when the trial resumes on Sept. 6.