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Anaheim Probe Brings Charges on Daly, Pickler

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Turning up the heat in a controversial four-month probe into alleged misconduct by Anaheim politicians, an independent prosecutor has charged Mayor Tom Daly and former councilman Irv Pickler with breaching state and city campaign contribution laws.

The misdemeanor complaints filed by prosecutor Ravi Mehta come as Daly is poised to run for the county supervisor’s seat held by William G. Steiner, who is retiring. Daly said in an interview this week that he plans to announce his candidacy any day.

But on Friday he referred questions to his attorney.

The complaints include charges that Daly and Pickler accepted campaign contributions that exceeded donation limits, and that they failed to itemize and report the donations.

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If convicted, they could face six months in jail and fines for violations of state and local campaign regulations.

Also named in the complaints are Daly’s former wife and campaign treasurer, Debra Daly, and the political committees set up by Daly and Pickler to manage contributions in a 1996 City Council race.

Mehta was hired with the approval of just two of the five-member Anaheim City Council to investigate the alleged campaign violations, after City Atty. Jack L. White refused to file charges. White had called the allegations unfounded.

The probe by Mehta, a former chair of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, has cost the city more than $79,000 in fees, and more than $4,300 in expenses since October.

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It has been widely criticized by political reform advocates, normally the first to demand full disclosure of campaign finances. They say the criminal probe is punishing honest politicians who made minor errors, and could discourage people from running for political office.

The Orange County district attorney’s office and FPPC officials question whether Mehta has the legal jurisdiction to bring charges at all. No other city or county in California has ever hired a special prosecutor to investigate suspected campaign finance violations, according to the FPPC.

Mehta did not return calls Friday. In the past he has defended the probe as upholding the law.

For months, Daly and Pickler have negotiated with Mehta, who threatened to file the criminal charges against them if they did not pay fines he set of at least $10,000, a source close to the talks said.

But Daly said the negotiations broke down this month when he refused to admit guilt.

“I just decided I was not going to settle. . . . I’m not going to let [Mehta] twist my arm,” Daly said.

In addition to the charges filed Thursday against Daly and Pickler, Mehta has issued criminal charges against former Councilman Frank Feldhaus and against the political action committee of an Anaheim firefighters union for alleged reporting violations.

The alleged reporting violations include omitting employment information of donors on one campaign report, failing to itemize a Visa bill on another, and, in Feldhaus’ case, filing a report three days late.

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All of the reports were later amended.

In December, Mehta negotiated a $6,500 settlement with Councilwoman Shirley McCracken, who called her offense--omitting employment information of donors on one campaign report--the inadvertent error of a hurried volunteer. She said she does not have the money to fight a lengthy court battle.

Daly and Pickler, on the other hand, appear ready to fight back.

“If the city of Anaheim wants to spend all this money, good luck to them,” said Marshall Schulman, the Costa Mesa attorney representing Pickler.

Councilman Lou Lopez, who is considering running for supervisor against Daly, said the money spent on Mehta’s inquiry is worth it.

“It’s pretty simple. These may be minor violations, but we’re just asking people to play by the rules.”

Tom Daly, Debra Daly and Pickler are scheduled to be arraigned in Municipal Court in Fullerton on March 2.

Also contributing to this story was Times correspondent Debra Cano.

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