Former South Gate Treasurer Indicted

Times Staff Writer

Former South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles was arrested Friday and charged with plundering $12 million over five years from the small working-class city, whose entire annual budget is $28 million.

A federal grand jury indicted Robles on 39 counts of money laundering, bribery, wire fraud and public corruption, alleging that he used his elected office and political influence to funnel money from a variety of city projects to family and friends between 1998 and last year.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Nov. 21, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 21, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Robles case -- An article in Saturday’s Section A about the indictment of former South Gate treasurer Albert Robles said that prosecutors asked that he be held without bail and that Magistrate Judge Victor B. Kenton set bail at $500,000. Prosecutors asked that Robles’ sister sign a $500,000 bond by Friday if he were granted bail because they considered him a flight risk. Kenton ordered that Robles be released on $500,000 bail if his sister signed the bond on Monday.

Federal officials estimate that Robles, 39, personally received $1.2 million from the various schemes. Robles’ attorney declined to comment Friday, saying he had not reviewed the case.


The charges come a year after voters in the predominantly Latino city about seven miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles recalled Robles and several political allies from office.

The recall capped a tumultuous period in South Gate history in which one councilman was shot, Robles was accused of threatening to kill political opponents and the city neared bankruptcy.

Some of the money in the alleged fraud went to pay Robles’ “platinum membership” in a motivational-behavior group run by self-help guru Tony Robbins, authorities said. An $80,000 check went to the mother of Robles’ girlfriend, and three checks totaling $165,000 went toward the purchase of a beachside condominium in Baja California in the name of Robles’ mother, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Robles demanded that companies seeking contracts for sewer services, affordable-housing developments and trash hauling hire consultant Edward T. Espinoza.

Espinoza then funneled some of the money he earned from that consulting back to Robles, who would press city staff to grant contracts to those firms, prosecutors charge. They say some of the alleged kickbacks went to Robles’ relatives, friends and former business partners.

South Gate officials said Friday that they were stunned by the sheer magnitude of the fraud alleged by prosecutors. But they expressed hope that the indictment would mark the beginning of the end of the Robles saga.


“It’s a new day for the city of South Gate,” said Mayor Henry Gonzalez, who was shot in the forehead but not seriously injured in a still-unsolved 1999 attack. Robles “emasculated us. We’ve been discovering a lot of things he has done. You turn over a rock, you don’t find a little spider. You find an alligator.”

Subdued Demeanor

Robles, who during his tenure exuded a bravado that charmed his supporters, was subdued Friday evening when he entered federal court in Los Angeles in handcuffs. Wearing a black dress shirt and black-rimmed glasses, he softly answered a judge’s questions. He is scheduled to enter a plea Monday.

When Robles rose to power in South Gate, supporters hailed him as a defender of the working man. The community is one of a handful of blue-collar industrial cities sandwiched between Los Angeles and Long Beach that over recent decades have seen dramatic demographic change. South Gate went from majority white to overwhelmingly Latino, and Robles sought to speak for the new generation of residents.

But he quickly became a lightning rod in a city long known for its bare-knuckled politics. Two camps emerged, one supporting Robles and the other opposing him. Critics accused him of using city resources for personal gain and smearing anyone who challenged him.

In 2002, Robles was charged with making threatening statements to two state legislators, a political consultant and a police lieutenant. He argued that he was simply speaking in macho tones in a city where political threats were commonplace.

The charges were dismissed after a jury deadlocked.

Last year, Robles pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of possessing semiautomatic assault weapons after investigators found them during a raid of his home related to the threats case.


His legal troubles continued after the recall.

Before Friday’s indictment, Robles was already awaiting trial on state charges that he violated election laws and misused public funds in an unsuccessful bid to avoid recall. Prosecutors say he conspired to print and mail false campaign fliers and to use city money to pay for them. He has denied the accusations.

After Robles was forced from office in January 2003, city officials discovered that he had signed more than $2 million in checks during his last days, much of it to attorneys defending him and other officials against various lawsuits and investigations.

The last-minute spending left South Gate’s emergency fund at an all-time low, and officials say it has taken a year for the city to regain its financial footing.

Four-Year Investigation

The federal charges come at the end of a four-year joint investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.

Espinoza, 50, of Summit, N.J., was also indicted, as was another Robles associate, Michael Klistoff of Seal Beach.

Klistoff, an official with two waste-disposal companies, allegedly provided gifts, including campaign contributions, to Robles in exchange for receiving South Gate’s $48-million trash and recycling contract.


Prosecutors asked that Robles be held without bail because they considered him a flight risk and because some potential witnesses felt threatened by him.

Magistrate Judge Victor B. Kenton denied the request, setting bail at $500,000.

But he did order Robles to surrender his passport and steer clear of airports, train stations, bus depots and seaports. The jurist also told Robles not to leave the area and to stay away from potential witnesses.

When Kenton asked Robles if he would comply with the restrictions, the former treasurer responded: “Yes, your honor, diligently.”

Back in South Gate, Mayor Gonzalez could not conceal his glee at the arrest of a longtime political nemesis.

“People are going to be excited about this,” he said. “I’ve been getting calls every month from people asking, ‘What’s going on with Robles?’ ”