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Alatorre Formally Enters Guilty Plea on Income Tax Evasion

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre pleaded guilty Monday to felony tax evasion, admitting that he failed to report almost $42,000 he received from individuals attempting to influence him in his official duties.

Alatorre’s plea ended the veteran Eastside power broker’s involvement in a four-year federal corruption probe that helped derail his political career.

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi tentatively approved the plea agreement without comment, pending a pre-sentencing report by federal probation authorities.

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Under the terms of the agreement, Alatorre, 57, would receive three years’ probation, including eight months of home detention, which could include electronic monitoring and restrictions on travel.

Details of the home confinement and other aspects of Alatorre’s sentence are to be finalized before his formal sentencing hearing, which the judge set for July 30. At that time, Takasugi is expected to approve the general agreement worked out between Alatorre’s lawyers and the U.S. attorney’s office.

The judge also told Alatorre that a fine was “not appropriate, as you lack the ability to pay.”

Alatorre hardly spoke during his brief court appearance.

Takasugi asked the former councilman whether he was entering into the agreement freely and voluntarily.

Alatorre nodded and responded softly, “Yes.”

He declined to comment outside the courtroom.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Alicia Villarreal also had no comment.

Federal authorities had been investigating Alatorre since at least 1997, bringing his friends, business associates and others before a grand jury looking into a series of questionable transactions involving the councilman’s personal finances and political maneuvers.

That corruption investigation is continuing, authorities say, and focuses in part on people who allegedly tried to bribe the lawmaker with cash.

But for Alatorre, the plea agreement closes a troubled chapter in the rise and fall of the onetime Eastside student activist and Assembly member who became one of California’s most prominent Latino elected officials.

In settling the case, authorities agreed not to seek jail time for Alatorre or prosecute his wife, Angie, who appeared in court with him Monday. Her name is on the couple’s joint tax returns, making her potentially vulnerable to civil and criminal charges, sources have said.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Alatorre could have been ordered to serve six months to a year in prison.

Alatorre pleaded guilty to one count of willfully evading the payment of federal income tax for the 1996 tax year. He admitted accepting $41,840 in cash in 1996 from third-party sources who sought to influence him in his capacity as a city councilman and a board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In the written agreement, Alatorre also admitted keeping the payments secret and failing to report them to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Last week, after the pending plea agreement became public, Alatorre stepped down from his $114,000-a-year job as a political appointee to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

Alatorre had represented the council district stretching from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock for 14 years.

Though insisting that he could have won reelection, Alatorre opted not to seek a new term in 1999. At the time, he was coping with the federal grand jury investigation, and also had tested positive for cocaine during a bitter guardianship case involving his niece.

It is unclear when the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the MTA inspector general’s office and the U.S. attorney began investigating Alatorre. But the federal probe gained momentum in late 1997 after The Times documented a series of questionable financial transactions involving the councilman.

Those transactions involved allegations of loan fraud and charges that a prominent Eastside developer financed thousands of dollars in improvements on Alatorre’s home.

Investigators also examined charges that the councilman repeatedly showed up at City Hall with wads of cash after meetings with city contractors.


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