Ex-GOP Chief Indicted in Bid to Sway Assemblyman

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michael B. Montgomery, an El Monte attorney and former state Republican Party chairman, has been indicted on criminal charges of trying to influence Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena) to violate California's ethics and conflict-of-interest laws.

Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Albert Locher said the six-count indictment, handed down more than a week ago and unsealed Friday, stemmed from conversations Montgomery had with Hoge that were secretly recorded and monitored by state investigators.

Montgomery's lawyer denied the charges. "Mr. Montgomery thinks he did not do anything wrong; that he acted properly in these circumstances," attorney Clyde Blackmon said.

The investigation began after Montgomery, who represented two businessmen seeking an exclusive card room franchise, approached Hoge for help in preventing a rival group from obtaining a gaming registration. Hoge went to the state attorney general's office, which asked him to work undercover.

The discussions between Montgomery and Hoge, a two-term assemblyman, took place over six months beginning in December 1994 and ending in May 1995.

Montgomery is a former member of the Fair Political Practices Commission and the South Pasadena City Council. He is also a former political ally of Gov. Pete Wilson and his nominee for an appointment to the Pacific Fishery Management Council. He served as Republican Party chairman in the late 1970s.

Over the years, he has held numerous local government posts in the San Gabriel Valley, including director of the Irwindale redevelopment agency.

Shortly after the county grand jury indictments were unsealed, Montgomery, 58, was booked into Sacramento County Jail and released on his own recognizance.

He appeared briefly before a Sacramento Superior Court judge but declined to enter a plea to the charges on the advice of his attorney, who said several legal issues needed to be resolved first. Montgomery's next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 2.

Describing the charges against Montgomery as fraught with legal problems, attorney Blackmon predicted in an interview that "we could be litigating this for a long, long period of time."

Blackmon said Montgomery was one of the first people indicted under a state law that governs the ethical conduct and potential conflicts of interests of legislators. He said three of the counts dealt with attempted conspiracy, a charge that he said he questions "is even a crime under California law."

He said the other three conspiracy charges fail to name a co-conspirator and that under California law, Montgomery cannot be charged with conspiring with himself.

All six of the counts--each a felony--allege that Montgomery tried to involve Hoge in wrongdoing that would violate ethics laws governing legislators. The indictments charge that Montgomery sought to have Hoge accept a fee for appearing before a state agency, to have him receive "outside compensation" for certain legislative actions and to involve him in a conflict of interest.

Hoge could not be reached for comment, but in earlier interviews he confirmed that he initiated the investigation "of what I believe was an attempt to influence my vote on a legislative matter."

Hoge's complaint to Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren prompted investigators from his office to set up a carefully orchestrated sting operation in the spring of 1995.

The target was Montgomery, a politically connected attorney representing restaurateur Don Smith and golf course owner Thomas Atwood. The men were seeking a potentially lucrative franchise to operate a card room in Colma, a tiny community south of San Francisco.

The Colma City Council had decided after an intense competition to award the card room franchise to a rival investor group, designating Montgomery's clients as runners-up. If for any reason the rival investors were unable to obtain the necessary gaming registration, the council said, the franchise would go to Smith and Atwood.

According to documents and interviews, Hoge told investigators that Montgomery had offered him an interest in the proposed card room if the assemblyman intervened to stop the competitors from obtaining the registration.

Their application for the registration was being reviewed at the time by the arm of Lungren's office that conducts background investigations of gaming operations.

After initial discussions between Hoge and Montgomery, the assemblyman, at the direction of investigators, suggested that he write legislation for Montgomery that would, in effect, disqualify the rival group from the franchise.

Although the legislation was never filed, records show the two men again discussed the possibility of Hoge obtaining an interest in the new card room if Montgomery's clients were successful in winning the franchise.

The attorney general's office completed its investigation last summer and turned the case over to Sacramento Dist. Atty. Jan Scully for prosecution.

Steve Telliano, a spokesman for Lungren, declined to comment on the indictment. "It wouldn't be proper for us to comment since we performed the investigation in this matter," he said.

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