Funny Business : You've doubtless had your fill of gloom-and-doom stories about the recession--but believe it or not, the late, not-so-great 1991 did have its lighter moments. Here we review a few of those rare specks of levity.

Times Staff Writer


When federal investigators raided Steven D. Wymer's Newport Beach house, they found on his bedside table a book entitled "How to Launder Money." The financial manager was indicted Thursday on counts of securities and mail fraud after at least $100 million disappeared from accounts he controlled for more than a dozen cities in California and Iowa. But no, the investigators have it all wrong, say Wymer's attorneys. The book was his wife's--he never touched the thing.


For months, employee No. 2832 shouldered much of the blame for problems with a faulty heart valve formerly manufactured by Shiley Inc. in Irvine. Fractures were 12 times more common in heart devices linked to the phantom welder than in the company's other valves. Through an internal investigation, Shiley tracked down the man behind the number--and learned he had already quit the company during the period that many of the high-risk valves were made. Somehow, his employee number continued to be used--more than 1,900 times after he'd left for a job repairing soft-drink machines in Northern California.


Fifty-eight mass-produced luxury homes, built by Bramalea of California, went up in the Irvine Co.'s Newport Coast development. Their price range: $1.4 million to $2.2 million. A tract mansion, anyone?


While Tommy Lasorda was busy boasting a trimmer waistline on Ultra Slimfast commercials, investors in his Fountain Valley food company were demanding equal time for fattening stuff. The Los Angeles Dodger baseball team manager, they complained, had neglected his pasta sauce--which was losing its market share to other brands. Was it a severe case of Dodger blues?


Arabesque Belly Dancers in Laguna Beach saw a decline in business during Desert Storm. The dancers, who perform at restaurants and fashionable parties, blamed the drop in bookings on an emotional backlash against all things Middle Eastern.


After an embarrassing C.J. Segerstrom & Sons memo leaked out, gay activists threatened to boycott South Coast Plaza mall during the holiday shopping period. The 2-year-old internal memo reiterated the mall owner's right "to refuse to hire or promote because of sexual preference." Mea culpa , the red-faced company responded. Acting swiftly to control damage, Segerstrom announced a new policy that specifically bans workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.


An adult-video firm sued a Buena Park special-effects company for failing to deliver the goods. The Chatsworth video maker paid Creative Effects Studios a $2,500 deposit to design a set of 90-inch-bustline breasts for props in a movie. But the finicky customer ended up disappointed in the 50-pound pair of foam-rubber falsies, calling them "unrealistic, scaly and Godzilla-like." Creative Effects claimed that the video maker still owed it another $2,500 and countersued. Both sides lost, however, when a Van Nuys Small Claims Court judge awarded neither side any money, citing the lack of an explicit contract.


Irvine couple Alan and Helen Cameron created a software program that supposedly reduces travel-related fatigue. After the user plugs in an itinerary, "TimeZone" computes a customized plan for sleep and diet to offset jet lag. Now if only someone could invent a floppy disk that retrieves lost luggage.


Lona Luckett, director of operations for the Better Business Bureau's regional office in Cypress, heard about some rather creative scams over the year. One was an ad for a $4.95 insect killer that, purportedly, would rid an entire acre of potato bugs. "What you got back was two blocks of wood with instructions that said, 'Put bug on Block 1, hit with Block 2,' " Luckett recalled. Then there was the "solar clothes dryer"--a clothesline.


Cal State Northridge turned down a college application from Carl's Jr. last November in protest of the ultra- conservative politics of its founder, Carl N. Karcher. The CSUN Foundation's board of trustees voted to reject a campus outlet after students voiced their opposition.

BOND, JAMES BOND: Well, it already had a Nordstrom. Maybe what Costa Mesa really needed was the Spy Factory, a store that sells everything from armored cars and tear gas to handcuffs and electronic watchdogs. The Spy Factory made its debut a week after the Persian Gulf War erupted. Pardon us for asking, but shouldn't an undercover operation have a name that's a bit more subtle--007, perhaps?

VIVE LA MUSTACHE: There's a French revolution brewing against Disneyland's employee dress code. A government agency in France filed a complaint contending that bans on facial hair, false eyelashes and colored hosiery may violate the country's work code. So when Euro-Disneyland opens near Paris in April, Snow White might be wearing--gasp--eye liner. Quelle shocking!

DUCKING THE LAW: On the flip side of the globe, the Walt Disney Co. created another uproar when it told the New Zealand village of Featherston to scrub Pluto and Donald Duck images off the walls of its public toilets. The murals, Disney said, violate copyright laws. Unapologetic for his town's decorative restrooms, Mayor John Garrity dismissed the company's demand as "Mickey Mouse."

STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER: Disney Co. faces rebellion at home as well as abroad. Hiroshi Fujishige's 58-acre Anaheim strawberry farm stands in the path of a multibillion-dollar Disney expansion. And he's not budging--despite the $32-million long-term lease reportedly offered him. The 68-year-old farmer's family has owned the land since the '40s. "I'm happy doing what I'm doing," he says. "That's all I know."

SHOCK RADIO: On his popular syndicated radio program, "The Reynolds Rap," talk show host Richard (R.G.) Reynolds touted himself as a financial guru who could lead his flock straight to a pot of gold. Tactics he used for padding his own pockets, however, led him straight to jail. Reynolds, president of Laguna Niguel-based Flow-Ventures Ltd., was found guilty of mail fraud in December. Prosecutors charged that he persuaded listeners to send money under the pretense that he would invest it in the stock market. Instead, he spent $1.3 million of their dollars on personal and business expenses.

MY RABBIT ATE MY HOMEWORK: During his trial, Reynolds tried a variation of an age-old excuse to explain a disconnected electronic monitor. He claimed that his pet bunny nibbled through wires on the device, which Reynolds had agreed to wear as a condition of bail terms. The judge didn't buy his story and ordered Reynolds held in custody throughout the remainder of his weeklong trial.

WHEN IN ORANGE COUNTY, DO AS . . . At the posh Center Club in Costa Mesa, Japanese business officials were wined and dined in style. But hospitality has its limits--the visitors were denied their request for ashtrays. Sniffed restaurant manager Joe Gatto: "Here in Orange County, people don't smoke while they eat."

PATENT PLACE: Even high-tech has its soap operas. After a 20-year legal dispute with Texas Instruments and Intel Corp., La Palma inventor Gilbert P. Hyatt was awarded a patent for inventing the microprocessor, or computer on a chip. Score another victory for Hyatt: Electronics companies scrambled to analyze the patent records for ways to avoid paying Hyatt royalties, only to find that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office had lost a stack of files in the application's 10,000-page case history. Score one for the other side: Under an appeal from Texas Instruments, the patent office decided to reopen the case, adding that the burden of proof lay with Hyatt. Then, as if the poor fellow doesn't have enough on his mind, he and his brother became embroiled in a family feud over personal property.

GLASS HOUSE DEVELOPMENT: Perhaps they should have spent another 60 minutes on their research. The CBS News television program "60 Minutes" broadcast a story about the plight of two local businessmen who allegedly had been duped out of tens of thousands of dollars by Wall Street inside trader Dennis Levine. Thomas Brechtel and Randy Jochim sought Levine's help in financing a Dana Point residential development, "60 Minutes" reported, but their promised loans never came through. Juicy stuff. But the show didn't mention that Brechtel himself has been a defendant in several lawsuits accusing him of questionable business deals.

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