Corruption Trial Witness Says Hill Expected to Profit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The key prosecution witness in the corruption trial of Sen. Frank Hill testified Thursday that the Whittier Republican knew that he and other GOP lawmakers would benefit financially if they advanced legislation that was part of an undercover FBI sting operation.

Former GOP aide Karin L. Watson told a U.S. District Court jury that in 1988 she and Hill, then an assemblyman, discussed special interest legislation to assist the FBI's bogus shrimp processing company.

"I told him we'd be receiving $10,000 for Republicans as a result of our help on the bill," said Watson, who pleaded guilty to extortion and is cooperating with the government in exchange for a lighter sentence.

"He was delighted," Watson recalled.

In a conversation secretly recorded by an FBI informant, Watson said Hill would want a share of the campaign contributions funneled to him. "He will definitely (want) one of the big ones," Watson said.

In questioning Watson, Assistant U.S. Atty. Bradford Lewis sought to show that the onetime GOP special assistant was not acting on her own but on behalf of former Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale and his top lieutenants, especially Hill.

Hill, 40, who was taking notes during part of Watson's second day of testimony, has pleaded not guilty to charges of extortion, conspiracy and money laundering. His co-defenandant, Terry E. Frost, 44, a former Democratic Senate aide, has pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiracy.

They are the latest defendants in a string of cases arising out of the elaborate sting operation in which FBI agents posing as Southern businessmen lavished money on lawmakers to support the bogus legislation.

In June, 1988, Nolan was given two $5,000 campaign checks and Hill received a $2,500 honorarium from the shrimp company.

Earlier this year, Nolan pleaded guilty to corruption charges and is serving a federal prison sentence. Hill is the first Republican lawmaker to go to trial.

As events surrounding the shrimp bill unfolded in 1988, neither Hill nor Watson knew the measure was part of the FBI's sting.

To buttress their case against Hill, prosecutors played several hours of secretly recorded conversations in which Watson boasts to an undercover FBI agent about Hill's clout.

In one conversation on May 26, 1988, Watson and the agent, known as George Miller, are walking to Hill's Capitol office to meet the lawmaker and discuss the shrimp bill. Watson describes Hill as "a tough street fighter" and as someone "with good connections in the governor's office."

After Hill is introduced to Miller, the lawmaker says that Watson has "already pitched me on (the legislation) so I'm on board, I'm supposed to take the lead, and round up the troops. I'd be happy to do it."

Watson also testified about how lawmakers discuss contributions in "code words" because it would be illegal to talk about money and legislation in the same conversation.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°