When William E. Cooper, a politically well-connected real estate investor, bought politician John Seymour's real estate brokerage in 1981, he said he hoped to emulate the giants of Wall Street finance.
This may not be what he had in mind. Federal investigators revealed Friday that First Pension Corp., Cooper's Orange County pension management firm, may have lost or misappropriated as much as $124 million in client funds.
Cooper, 50, who lives in this northern Orange County town, is known among Southland political figures as a staunch Republican and frequent contributor to state and local campaigns; he was once a member of a prominent local fund-raising club.
"He was a very easygoing guy, very much into the outdoors, who liked to give lavish gifts," a onetime Cooper friend said. "He was always surrounded by people."
Seymour, who went on to serve as a U.S. senator, counted Cooper among his supporters until Cooper began failing to make payments on the purchase of Seymour's brokerage business. Now chairman of the California Housing Finance Agency, Seymour said the sale to Cooper cost him "considerable sums" and that he has not spoken with Cooper since.
An Orange County official said Cooper would "end up sitting in the back row at a political event but enjoyed being part of the crowd. He liked being on a first-name basis with politicians."
Late last year, Cooper and his partner in First Pension, Robert Lindley, were financial backers of a proposal to bring a 200-table card club to Anaheim that would have been the Southland's largest. City Council members, several of whom received campaign donations from Cooper, rejected the plan.
Real estate was the basis of Cooper's fortune.
He started in the mortgage business in 1961, when he was 18, as a loan officer trainee. He later worked for Union Home Loan as a loan officer and branch manager, then moved to Capital Home Loan, rising to become general manager before he left in 1974.
In the late 1970s, Cooper formed Continental Home Loan, a loan brokerage firm, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of another of Cooper's companies, First Diversified Financial Services. It was then that Cooper bought Seymour Realty Register from the then-mayor of Anaheim.
In 1984, Cooper ran into trouble after $577,850 was diverted from a trust fund, L.B. Mortgage Servicing Co., according to the California Department of Real Estate. Cooper's real estate license was revoked for negligence and failing to supervise the company.
Cooper's next run-in with authorities came with First Pension.
Times staff writers Kevin Johnson and Matt Lait in Orange County contributed to this report.