Facing a political opponent for the first time in his 23 years as Orange County's treasurer and wondering about his reelection chances, Robert L. Citron turned to the psychic powers of Jeannie Smith for an answer that was both reassuring and accurate. He'd win.
And when interest rates began to rise, undermining the value of the $21-billion investment pool he ran for Orange County, Citron again looked to Smith for any hints that large investors might withdraw their deposits, triggering a calamitous run on the pool. She said they wouldn't, and they didn't.
The otherworldly advice Citron sought from the Anaheim Hills psychic apparently never centered on the exotic securities he purchased--interest-sensitive investments that later came back to haunt him--according to the former treasurer's co-workers and others who have heard his side.
Only once did Smith--whose identity has never been publicly revealed before--make any interest rate predictions for Citron. In 1993, she told him that interest rates would fall, according to one person who has listened to tape recordings of Citron's interrogation by prosecutors, who quizzed him on the subject.
As Smith predicted, interest rates did drop, boosting both the value and the earnings of Citron's investments.
The identity of Citron's psychic has been the subject of considerable speculation ever since The Times first revealed that his top treasurer's office assistant, Matthew Raabe, stunned a secret gathering of officials on the eve of the county's bankruptcy with comments about the former treasurer's reliance on psychics and astrologers.
When a Times reporter learned Smith's identity and located her home in Anaheim Hills, all she would say before hanging up the phone was, "I have no interest in talking to a reporter." But the 60-something woman has told other psychics she gave Citron no guidance about investments for the pool.
Citron frequently got "psychic readings" from Smith, a longtime Orange County spiritualistic medium who is well respected by other psychics in Southern California.
She taught classes on "psychic development" in the mid-1980s at the Learning Light Foundation in Anaheim, and in the late 1970s at the Metaphysical Fellowship Church in Stanton.
Judy Jacobson, a treasury investment officer who worked closely with Citron for five years, said his interest in the occult or astrology was mostly confined to personal matters. "It was just a casual thing with him," she said.
The only time it ever came up with her, Jacobson said, was when Citron offered some advice about her personal finances. "He just referred to a chart he had," she said, adding that it appeared to be "the predictions of an astrologer."
When questioned by federal and local investigators after the county's December 1994 bankruptcy, the former treasurer made no secret of his keen interest in astrology and paranormal advice, said officials and others familiar with Citron's interviews.
But Citron maintained that his interest was personal, not professional. "He's a little eccentric, so it's not too surprising he might do this," said one person who has listened to tape recordings of Citron's statements to investigators.
"This is a guy who, in the age of computers, kept track of how he was doing with the pool by scrawling numbers on the back of envelopes torn in half. He had them all stapled together and carried them around with him.
"He kept all of his own money in a passbook savings account. He said, 'You just can't trust those brokers.' "
Citron's investment bets that interest rates would remain stable or fall even further brought about a $1.64-billion loss on securities that forced the county into bankruptcy.
He pleaded guilty last April to six felony counts of securities fraud and misappropriating public funds. On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger once again postponed his sentencing date.
The former treasurer told a social gathering in the summer of 1994 how his psychic predicted he would win the election. A few weeks later, he talked about her again with workers in his office.
But Citron declined to reveal Smith's name and number when a treasurer's office employee said he wanted to consult her. "You can't meet her, she's my psychic," Citron reportedly told the employee.
Former colleagues see the 70-year-old former treasurer's interest in the occult as part of his quirky personality. "He grew up as a big believer in alternative medicine, because his father was a well-known homeopathic physician," said a county employee who worked with Citron for 20 years.
"If you had a cold or weren't feeling well, Bob always had some home remedy for you," said the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We were worried about malpractice claims if anything bad happened."
Citron's father, Dr. Jesse Citron, a homeopathic physician in Hemet, treated comic actor W.C. Fields for pneumonia, then ended up in a widely publicized legal fight in 1937 to collect $12,000 in fees. He eventually won, but a jury reduced the amount.
Although officials later found no evidence that mystical guidance influenced Citron's investment decisions, there was considerable interest in the subject after Raabe's revelations were made public.
According to grand jury testimony by former county finance director Eileen T. Walsh, she "drew the inference from what Matt said that Bob [Citron] consulted the psychic and the mail-order astrologer about interest rates. But now I understand that Matt was talking about [prospects for] the pool, and not about interest rates or investments."
Still, the officials who attended that meeting "joked about it a lot," Walsh said, adding that it influenced the decision of former Chief Administrator Ernie Schneider, Auditor-Controller Steve E. Lewis and County Counsel Terry Andrus to seek Citron's resignation.
About six months after the bankruptcy, Citron visited Barbara Connor of Anaheim, another well-known psychic.
At first, Connor said, she didn't know who Citron was. "When he called, he said his name was Robert, and gave me his phone number. I just remember a very soft-spoken man, a gentleman, very polite." Afterward, her son recognized Citron and told her who he was.
During her sessions, Connor said, she meditates, slips into a trance, and then connects with one of several "spiritual teachers" who answer questions posed by clients. Connor recalled that as the session ended, Citron said, "I guess I'm not going to go to jail--according to your teachers."