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Top D.A. Official Closes Case on His Career

TIMES STAFF WRITER

W. Patrick Moriarty is one of Jerry “Rusty” Hodges’ biggest fans. The former fireworks magnate found Hodges “very fair” and “very thorough.”

That’s high praise, especially when you consider that Hodges helped imprison Moriarty, the central figure in one of the largest political scandals in California history.

If your job is busting politicians and their cronies, it stands to reason you would make enemies a lot faster than friends.

Not so with Hodges, the affable 58-year-old supervisor of the organized crime and grand jury unit for the Orange County district attorney’s office, who retired last week after 33 years in law enforcement.

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“Mine was a political corruption case and that’s his specialty,” Moriarty said. “He was an enthusiastic policeman who could operate at all levels. I liked him.”

Hodges’ career spanned every major political scandal in Orange County since the late 1970s, from Moriarty’s to the massive Orange County bankruptcy investigation, which Hodges supervised.

With an uncanny ability to connect with criminals and citizens alike, his colleagues and associates say, Hodges amassed and retained a large and fruitful network of informants who helped him solve crimes and build successful cases for prosecutors.

Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Maurice L. Evans, who has worked with Hodges for 23 years, said, “He is just an exceptional investigator. You can give him any assignment and always be assured of getting an outstanding result.”

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His boss, Loren Duchesne, chief of the district attorney’s bureau of investigations, was equally effusive in his praise.

“Political corruption cases are different than other cases because you are always attacked politically, always face the very best attorneys and are always dealing with frightened or reluctant witnesses.

“To do them well it takes someone with excellent people skills, someone who is very focused and someone who has an ability to gain the confidence of witnesses,” Duchesne said. “I don’t know anybody who’s better at that than Rusty.”

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Born in Phillips, Texas, the son of a construction worker, Hodges moved to Southern California during World War II when his father came west for work and settled in Paramount.

After graduating from Paramount High School, Hodges spent two years in the Marine Corps, attended college and worked in construction before joining the Anaheim Police Department in 1964.

Ten years later, he was hired as a district attorney’s investigator, and was then “handpicked” by John Gier, then head of the organized crime and grand jury unit, to work on high-profile political and criminal cases.

“He could talk to a bum on the street as well as he could a high government official,” said Gier, who retired and is now a private investigator in Florida. “And that’s a very unusual talent.”

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Superior Court Judge David O. Carter worked with Hodges when he was an assistant district attorney. “Rusty represents an era in investigations that goes way back to when business was conducted with a handshake, your word was your bond and we were all out fighting crime,” he said.

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While his career involved numerous political cases, none was bigger than Moriarty’s--which spanned three years in the mid-1980s and featured allegations that political favors were obtained through bribery, kickbacks, money laundering and prostitutes.

Hodges and others in the district attorney’s office were “federalized” so they could join with agents from the FBI’s Santa Ana office and criminal investigators from the IRS.

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Moriarty, who eventually chose to cooperate with investigators, received a seven-year sentence to the federal prison in Lompoc after his fraud and bribery convictions, but he was freed by an appellate court after serving only 29 months.

Hodges came to know Moriarty well during their frequent two-hour car rides from the prison to federal court. “The dude accepted responsibility for his deeds, and I think you have to respect him for that,” Hodges said. “Of course, I don’t agree with what he did, but he understood I had a job to do.”

In one notable coup during the case, Gier said, Hodges convinced a state senator to allow D.A. investigators to monitor his telephone calls to track influence peddling.

Hodges recalled eavesdropping on one memorable conversation the senator had: “A [Northern California] legislator called to say, ‘If this investigation was up here, I could get it squelched. But I can’t get to those guys in Orange County.’ ”

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Hodges continued, “I’m proud of that because in my 23 years in this office, never once did anyone ever tell me to do something for political reasons. It never happened.”

But loud, public criticism is a natural byproduct of high-profile political cases, Hodges said. And that was never truer than after the Orange County Grand Jury issued civil accusations and charges against two supervisors and three county officials in December 1995.

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One witness who dealt often with Hodges and his staff during the bankruptcy was former finance director Eileen Walsh.

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“The investigators were given an impossible task to find and digest probably more documents than the county processes in a year,” Walsh said. “Throughout all that, Hodges managed to stay professional and perform his job with great humor.”

But for all his dexterity at chatting up informants, Hodges is exceptionally modest, and almost loath to talk about himself. “You’ll never see him looking for kudos or a neon sign above his head,” said a longtime friend, Anaheim Police Lt. James Flammini.

Hodges, who often dismissively refers to reporters as “newsies,” said, “This is going to sound like b.s., but I learned early on to just hunt for the facts and go where they take you and to remember that, except for murderers and child molesters, the people you wind up arresting are real people and that’s how you should treat them.

“Every person you talk to is a potential source of information, so why not be nice to them? Down the line, if he gets in a bind, he’s going to talk to you and snitch his enemies off.”

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That philosophy left an impression on a lot of people, such as Moriarty, who said he’s now thinking about moving to Orange County from his home in Downey.

“I’ve just been waiting for Rusty to retire,” he said.


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