Of the few employees who stuck by Bernard Mass through Whiteworth's decline, perhaps the most devoted was Jeff Roberts.
"I had given my life to that company, and I wanted to see it continue," Roberts explained. "I had literally worked six days (a week) for the 14 years I was there, 10 hours a day."
By the time of Whiteworth's exodus to San Bernardino, however, even Roberts was fed up. Owed $30,000 in back pay, he quit with plans to start a company that would supplant his ex-employer.
But Roberts failed to return a piece of laboratory equipment he said he had stored in his garage after unsuccessfully trying to sell it for Mass. Figuring the machinery could help him recoup his losses, Roberts continued to peddle it.
On Nov. 2, 1989, two men came by Roberts' house in Lawndale to examine the machinery. Roberts wanted $30,000, but quickly agreed to their offer of $22,000.
There was a hitch: Roberts was being set up.
Mass had arranged to "sting" Jeff Roberts. One of the supposed purchasers was a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. At a prearranged signal, five other officers burst into Roberts' garage and placed him under arrest for felony theft.
The charge, ultimately, was dismissed in August--but only after nine court hearings and Roberts' guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession. Deputies had found 1 3/4 pounds of the drug as they searched Roberts' house for Whiteworth equipment.
"It just about ruined my life," Roberts said of the incident.