After insisting repeatedly that a payment he received from a major trash hauler was for the sale of a computer, former Moorpark City Councilman Scott Montgomery conceded in sworn testimony before the Ventura County grand jury that he may have never actually delivered a computer to the company official.
In two days of testimony in early October, Montgomery initially said he had sold a computer for $3,500 to G. I. Sweeping, delivered it to the firm's office and hooked up the wiring.
But when confronted with evidence that showed the $3,500 payment might have actually been a loan from G. I. Industries trash executive Manny Asadurian Sr., Montgomery modified his testimony, according to transcripts released by the court Friday.
Although he continued to deny it was a loan, Montgomery testified he could no longer state for certain that after he received the money he had actually delivered a computer.
Montgomery ended the two days of grilling by Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Aveis by pleading guilty to conflict of interest charges for accepting the $3,500 from Asadurian, a top executive with G. I. Industries, which has trash-hauling contracts in Moorpark.
Along with his guilty plea, Montgomery, 42, agreed to immediately resign from the City Council post he had held for seven years.
Montgomery has since changed his mind, and with the help of a new attorney has filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea, which will be heard by Municipal Court Judge Thomas Hutchins on Thursday.
In his motion to withdraw the plea, Montgomery's attorney, George Eskin, stated that his client was "subjected to pressure, threats and coercion by the district attorney." Eskin said the political corruption investigation into Montgomery's dealings with Asadurian culminated "in ten days of harassment, intimidation and terror."
In an interview Friday, Eskin said he had not yet had an opportunity to review the grand jury transcripts and would not comment on what Montgomery said during the proceeding. What was said during the hearing does not have a bearing on whether Montgomery was coerced into making his plea, Eskin said.
"The issue is whether this person should be allowed to withdraw his plea and start from Square One," Eskin said, adding that Montgomery should be given an opportunity to defend himself in court.
One of the arguments Eskin made in the motion to withdraw the guilty plea was that Aveis drove a wedge between Montgomery and his previous attorney, Daniel Schmidt, undermining Montgomery's right to the effective assistance of counsel, a charge that Aveis has repeatedly denied.
"I never tried to drive a wedge between Montgomery and Schmidt," Aveis said Friday. "Look at the transcripts."
The grand jury transcripts show that while Aveis was relentless in his questioning of Montgomery, he allowed Montgomery to write questions down during the proceeding and leave the grand jury hearing room to consult with his attorney.
The transcripts also show that Aveis repeatedly asked Montgomery questions about the payment to clarify his answers.
"[Montgomery] was evasive and at times conveniently lacking recollection in material areas," Aveis said Friday.
During the grand jury proceeding, Aveis at one point went through a series of simple questions, asking whether Montgomery had delivered the computer to G. I. Sweeping offices, whether he carried the computer into the office, whether he carried in the monitor, mouse, keyboard and all the wiring.
Montgomery said he had, and that he had hooked up the machine as well.
Aveis asked Montgomery: "Are you telling us you believe you delivered a computer or you in fact delivered the computer for which you got this check July 23, 1993?"
"I . . . I delivered a computer, sir," Montgomery said.
"Absolutely positively?" Aveis asked.
"I remember going to the office and delivering a computer, sir," Montgomery said.
Before excusing Montgomery on the first day of questioning, Aveis confronted Montgomery with testimony from a number of witnesses--including Asadurian and G. I. Industries Chief Executive Officer Mike Smith--stating that the $3,500 was a short-term loan. Smith, a friend of Montgomery, had testified earlier in the proceeding that he received a call from Montgomery on July 23.
According to Smith's testimony, Montgomery said he needed $3,500 that day because he owed thousands of dollars in back taxes as well as unpaid mortgage payments and could lose his house.
Smith told Montgomery he did not have that kind of money, but called Asadurian. When Smith called and explained the situation, Smith said Asadurian asked, "Who's Scott Montgomery?" He was quickly reminded that Montgomery was a Moorpark councilman and he agreed to cut a check out of his G. I. Sweeping account, Smith testified.
A check was then made out to Eagle Systems, the financial and computer consulting firm that Montgomery operated out of his home, and Smith delivered the check to Montgomery that same afternoon.
Montgomery assured him that he would pay back the loan within 10 days, Smith testified, saying that Montgomery told him he expected to be paid a large sum of money for work he had recently completed. But Smith added that Montgomery still had not repaid the loan after two or three weeks.
Smith testified he then called the councilman. Smith said he was worried the delay in repayment was going to cause problems for Asadurian, who was in bankruptcy and had to account for all outgoing receipts.
"I told Scott, 'You know, we don't have any paperwork. You didn't sign anything for the loan. I have nothing to match this check. I mean, there is no bill, there's no receipt, there is no invoice, there's nothing and there is going to be a problem.' "
Added Smith: "So that is when the . . . documentation for the invoice for a computer purchase was created."
Smith testified that Montgomery gave him a fabricated invoice several weeks after the loan was made.
When Aveis told Montgomery that several people, including Smith, had testified that the invoice was fake, Montgomery said that was the first he had heard of such a thing.
"You mean after two years of not saying anything, now they claim that it's . . . it is not a real invoice?" Montgomery asked Aveis.
Aveis told Montgomery that several other witnesses' testimony before the grand jury had contradicted much of his testimony.
"I'm giving you now an opportunity to tell the truth," Aveis told Montgomery. "Everybody has testified that you were offered and got a loan and this invoice was fabricated to protect Manny Asadurian's bankruptcy estate. A jury is going to potentially listen to all that and will be polarized: Is Scott Montgomery telling the truth or is the rest of this group telling the truth . . . ?"
When Montgomery returned for questioning two days later, he tried to clarify his answers given on the first day of testimony.
"I have been unable to locate records that support my testimony that I had delivered a computer to G. I. Sweeping," Montgomery said in a prepared statement before the grand jury. "Therefore I would like to withdraw any earlier statements to this Grand Jury to the extent that such statements reflected certainty by me that computer was delivered. I am no longer certain a computer was delivered."
He added that whether or not a computer was actually delivered did not change his understanding of the $3,500 payment.
"I did not consider the $3,500 to be a loan," he said. "The Eagle Systems invoice provided to G. I. Sweeping after the check was received formalized my understanding of a contractual obligation to provide a computer."