Tucker Says Pay Was for Consulting : Bribery trial: Compton congressman testifies that he accepted $10,000 because he thought he was being hired as business adviser.
Rep. Walter R. Tucker III testified Friday that he did not object to accepting $10,000 in cash from an undercover FBI informant because he believed he was being hired to perform legitimate consulting work.
On the stand for the second day in his federal extortion trial, Tucker denied soliciting a bribe from businessman John Macardican while serving as Compton’s mayor in 1991.
Macardican was working as an undercover informant for the FBI while he was seeking city approval to build a $250-million waste-to-energy conversion plant in Compton.
Prosecutors contend that Tucker solicited a bribe when he and Macardican discussed the project over lunch at a private club on May 30, 1991.
The 38-year-old Democratic congressman testified Friday that Macardican spent much of the time during their lunch seeking his advice on how to win public and political support for his project.
He said Macardican was particularly concerned about how to approach officials of the Compton school district, which owned land that he hoped to buy as a site for the waste conversion plant.
Near the end of the lunch, Tucker said, Macardican changed the conversation and asked for a “signal” as to how he could support the mayor. Tucker said he responded by asking for a $10,000 contribution to retire his campaign debt.
When Macardican then insisted that he would have to make the payments “in green because I don’t know any other way to do it,” Tucker responded: “All right.” That conversation was recorded by the FBI from a body transmitter that Macardican wore under his shirt.
Under questioning Friday by defense attorney Robert Ramsey Jr., Tucker admitted he never objected to the cash offer.
“I understood him to be giving me a non-negotiable condition. He would be supportive of me but he was insisting it would have to be ‘green’ or cash instead of checks which I had asked for,” Tucker explained.
But, he added, “when he brought up cash, my mind changed [about the purpose of the payment] because I understood that a politician could not accept cash contributions.”
Tucker said he left the lunch believing that he had negotiated a legitimate business deal to serve as Macardican’s consultant on dealings with the school district. He said Macardican had stressed during their lunch that he needed a savvy adviser.
“I would work for him. I would give him advice. I didn’t promise him anything. I was willing to act as an adviser for his project.”
But upon reflection, he said, he became concerned about a possible misunderstanding. He said that a few weeks later he spotted Macardican in the parking lot outside his office.
“I told him I needed to clarify our relationship,” Tucker told the jury. “If it’s gonna be cash. Mr. Macardican, you’re gonna have to pay me as an adviser on the school board.
“Mr. Macardican indicated, ‘whatever, whatever but understand it’s gotta be cash.’ Fine, I said, it’s gotta be green, but understand I’m gonna have to earn it.”
Tucker received a first installment--$2,000 in cash--during a secretly videotaped meeting in Macardican’s office on June 26, 1991.
According to a transcript, Macardican handed over the money as he told Tucker, “and that should secure your vote.” Slipping the cash into his pocket, Tucker replied, “We’ll be friendly, definitely.”
In response to his lawyer’s questions, Tucker said Macardican’s remark “came out of the blue” and “went over my head.” He said he never promised to vote for the waste-to-energy proposal and that Macardican had never asked him to do so until then.
His promise to be “friendly” was simply “my being appreciative of him employing me as a consultant,” he said.
Afterward, Tucker said, he and Macardican went to lunch, taking Tucker’s car. Tucker said the first thing he said to Macardican when they got in the vehicle was, “I don’t guarantee you anything” by accepting the money. He said Macardican became apologetic and said he meant no harm.
Tucker’s defense contends that the then-mayor was entitled to work as a consultant to Macardican on dealings with the school board because the City Council, on which he sat, is a separate agency.
Called as a defense witness last week, Compton City Atty. Legrand H. Clegg II said he saw “nothing wrong” with “a part-time City Council member advising a private businessman on how to do business with the school board.”
Under cross-examination, however, he said a conflict could arise if the project being considered by the school board was also pending before the City Council.
The council, sitting as the city’s redevelopment agency, voted to grant Macardican an exclusive negotiating agreement. Tucker cast an affirmative vote.
In addition to the $10,000 payment, Tucker is accused of extorting another $20,000 from Macardican in 1991 and 1992 as well as soliciting a $250,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent who was posing as Macardican’s financier.
Before testimony ended Friday, Tucker testified that the ‘financier’ agreed to pay him $250,000 if he personally would lobby school board members and the district superintendent. The money was never paid. Tucker also is charged with extorting $7,500 from Murcole Disposal, Compton’s residential rubbish collector, and failure to pay income taxes.