A $25,000 Case of Bad Timing : Investments: Orange County’s financial problems have hit a Valley man named Treasure in the wallet.


Four days before the announcement of the biggest local government financial collapse in the nation’s history, Clifton Treasure decided that investing $25,000 in Irvine school district bonds would be a pretty wise move.

It wasn’t.

“But when the broker said, ‘Irvine,’ I said, ‘Man, that’s solid. It’s a good deal’ . . . richest county in the state,” said Treasure, recalling his phone conversation with the salesman from the Westlake Village office of Prudential Securities.

Four days later, the 59-year-old Studio City resident was on the phone with that bond salesman again, this time trying to undo the deal. Sorry, said the broker, no deal.


So begins the short but sad saga of one of Orange County’s last municipal investors.

Treasure said the broker told him the best he could do was to try to sell the bonds for about 50 cents on the dollar--losing half of Treasure’s treasure in just four days.

Prudential’s advice: Hold on to the bonds and hope their value recovers.

To double-check, Treasure called another broker he knew, who told him the same thing.

Later, a supervisor from the Prudential Securities Westlake office called to calm Treasure down, urging him to ride out the financial storm and see how he fared, Treasure said. He also reminded him to send in his check for the bonds--which he still hadn’t paid for, Treasure said. He had committed to the deal and would face legal action if he reneged, Treasure said the broker told him.

So--against the advice of his attorney--he paid up, he said.

After that phone call, Treasure said he contacted the Orange County district attorney’s office. “They seemed happy to hear from me,” he said. Then he called the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, then the arbitration office of the National Assn. of Securities Dealers, hoping somebody would tell him his problem could be solved. It couldn’t.

It wasn’t the first time that Treasure, a man of modest means who manages a mobile home park in Monrovia, has dabbled in the bond market.

It was the second.

His first purchase was made years ago through First Interstate Bank, and it wasn’t until he received a phone call from Prudential about six months ago urging him to expand his bond portfolio that he considered making another buy, he said.

Even when he purchased the school bonds, he tried to reduce his exposure to the bond market.


“I told him I’d like to get $10,000 in bonds and he said I couldn’t. I had to buy $25,000. I was just trying to be a nice guy, you know. If anyone ever calls me on the phone again. . . . But it’s a big company, the fourth-largest in the nation, you know. At least that’s what he told me.”

He could not make a smaller investment because of the way the bonds are denominated, Treasure said.

The Westlake office of Prudential Securities declined to comment. Charlie Perkins, a spokesman for Prudential’s New York headquarters, said his firm is obligated to warn customers about risky investments, but there was no way its brokers could have foreseen Orange County’s impending financial disaster.

Christopher Taylor, executive director of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board in Washington, said that Treasure may be able to recoup some of his money if his purchases are among older bonds protected by debt-service requirements that channel interest and principal payments into separate funds.

Treasure’s bonds were first issued in January, 1977, maturing in January, 1996, according to officials in the Orange County auditors office.

It is unclear how Treasure’s investment will be affected in the long run by the debacle, but “right now these bonds are on hold,” said Gary Leach, who runs the claims and disbursement department of the Orange County auditor’s office.


Treasure said he has decided to take the broker’s advice and hold on to the bonds in the hope that they will regain at least some of their value.

Treasure said that if he loses his entire investment it won’t leave him broke, but he still feels pretty awful about it.

“I was going to put a down payment on some land for a house in Topanga Canyon. . . . It’s not like I have kids who are going to go without shoes on their feet, but I feel like a man in a boat who just tossed $25,000 overboard,” he said Monday.

“This is a big one.”