Investors bilked out of more than $136 million last year in the First Pension Corp. scandal started calling on their politicians Wednesday--not to get stronger laws passed but to get some of their money back from the lawmakers.
An ad hoc committee for about 8,000 investors wants refunds on campaign contributions that convicted swindler William E. Cooper, First Pension's founder, made to a host of current and former Republican officeholders from Gov. Pete Wilson and former President George Bush to Orange County supervisors.
In the first batch of letters sent Wednesday to 13 politicians, the committee asserts that the contributions were made with "money stolen from investors." The committee also provides copies of canceled checks as proof of the donations.
"We respectfully request and appeal to your sense of fairness to the defrauded investors that you return all contributions which came from Mr. Cooper or any of his related entities," states the letter to Wilson, who received $4,000 from Cooper.
The committee so far has traced nearly $44,000 in contributions that Cooper made to Wilson, Bush, former Gov. George Deukmejian and others, including U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach). Cox also is being sued by investors for his work as a lawyer on First Pension matters.
"We know they weren't aware of the fact that Cooper was using stolen money," said Sandra van Loben Sels, spokeswoman for the committee. "We're just appealing to their honest natures to refund the money to us."
She said lawyers for investors, working with the court-appointed receiver in the First Pension bankruptcy, have collected copies of the checks to the campaigns of several dozen politicians and GOP committees dating to 1986 and are continuing to search for additional contributions.
Cooper had been a fixture in Orange County business, social and political circles for the past two decades. He was a member of the GOP's Lincoln Club and a major campaign contributor. He also was a big booster of former Sen. John Seymour, whose real estate brokerage he bought in 1981, and former Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth, who received $7,750 in political donations from Cooper along with about $11,000 in loans.
Sean Walsh, Wilson's press secretary, said the governor couldn't comment because he had not yet received the ad hoc committee's letter. But Walsh said it was the first time he had ever heard of such a request.
Cooper, 51, has admitted that he swindled investors out of more than $136 million in retirement savings through his now-defunct First Pension in Irvine. In February, a federal judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison and ordered him to repay $73.1 million.
His two cohorts, Valerie Jensen, 47, and Robert Lindley, 51, also were given prison terms for their roles in what amounted to a giant Ponzi scheme that misled clients into investing in nonexistent mortgages and took money from new investors to pay back earlier ones.