Rep. Tucker Pleads Not Guilty to U.S. Charges : Courts: The ex-mayor of Compton is arraigned on bribery and tax evasion counts. He accuses prosecutors of targeting African Americans.
Surrounded by ministers, family members and lawyers, Rep. Walter R. Tucker III pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he solicited and accepted bribes from a local businessman and hid the money from the IRS while mayor of Compton.
The Democratic congressman was released on a $10,000 signature bond and told not to travel outside the continental United States, unless on congressional business.
Shortly after the arraignment in U.S. District Court, Tucker and about three dozen supporters faced the media on the steps of the federal courthouse--mostly to pray and criticize federal prosecutors.
"(God’s) mercy endures. My family is here. God is here,” Tucker said, before accusing federal prosecutors of unfairly targeting high-profile African American men for prosecution.
“Look at the list,” Tucker said. “There was Marion Barry before me. There was O.J. Simpson before me. There was Mike Tyson and Mike (Michael) Jackson. You may as well call me Mike Tucker.”
Many of Tucker’s supporters, who clogged the narrow halls of the federal courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles during his arraignment, held up picket signs throughout his news conference, reading: “Witch Hunt!” “Stop Racism 1994" and “Tucker Is Innocent!”
Both Tucker and his attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., emphatically denied the charges and said they expect to prove Tucker’s innocence at his trial.
Tucker sent a letter to some backers seeking their “presence and support at my press conference immediately following my arraignment. . . . Your presence will send a strong message of support throughout the community and nation. . . . Should you be unable to attend, please send a representative.”
While Tucker, a freshman congressman facing reelection this year, and his supporters denounced the case as race-biased prosecution, Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven G. Madison countered that his evidence is colorblind.
“Race and ethnicity have never been a factor in this investigation,” Madison said. “We received allegations of corruption, we investigated. That’s exactly what happened.”
The investigation, and eventual grand jury indictment, stemmed from a proposed waste-to-energy plant in Compton. According to sources close to the investigation, Tucker was videotaped with a hidden camera in 1991 and 1992 accepting bribes from FBI investigators posing as businessmen.
Tucker is accused of taking $30,000 in cash and checks in exchange for his promise to support the plant, proposed by Compton Energy Systems. He also demanded an additional $250,000, according to the indictment.
When the waste-to-energy proposal came before the City Council in July, 1992, Tucker championed the idea--winning an exclusive negotiating agreement for Compton Energy Systems after a bitter council debate. The agreement between the company and city lapsed after a year, however, and the project was never revived.
Tucker has refused to comment on Compton Energy Systems or on his two years as Compton’s youngest elected mayor.
Tucker’s trial won’t begin for at least five months. Due to the complexity of the case, which prosecutors said includes “tens of thousands of documents and 30-60 hours of video and audiotape evidence,” attorneys agreed to delay the trial date until Feb. 1, 1995. Cochran’s involvement in the upcoming O.J. Simpson murder trial was another reason to hold back the start date, agreed U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, who will hear the case.
Tucker’s only competition in the Nov. 8 election will come from Libertarian candidate Guy Wilson of San Pedro. In the 37th District, which includes Compton and parts of Carson and Hawthorne, whoever wins the Democratic primary can usually expect to win the election--and Tucker easily beat his one Democratic challenger in June with 84% of the vote.
None of Tucker’s supporters were talking about the election Monday. Most of them--ministers, businessmen and longtime supporters--said they came to the courthouse to show their faith.
“I believe completely in his innocence,” said Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, a political unknown until Tucker backed her bid for a council seat in 1993. “I’m not claiming perfection for Walter. Nobody who breathes is perfect. But this is ridiculous.”