Disgraced Former Official Sues City
Voters recalled him from office. He was convicted of bribery in a corruption case that cost taxpayers $12 million. Next month, he faces trial on charges of fraud and improper use of public money.
But this week, former South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles served the city with a suit for wrongful termination.
“Either I am a crazy madman and insane or someone who in his heart believes he’s not guilty of these things or someday would be vindicated,” Robles said Wednesday. “I don’t believe I’m crazy. I’ve done some brazen things, but obviously I don’t think I’m crazy.”
Robles, 40, said he decided to pursue the claim even though a federal jury 10 days ago convicted him of public corruption.
Officials in South Gate, a working-class city south of downtown Los Angeles that nearly went bankrupt because of Robles’ activities, greeted his latest move with a mixture of disgust and astonishment.
“I just laughed and chuckled to myself,” Councilman Henry C. Gonzalez said. “I said, ‘Boy, he doesn’t give up.’ ”
South Gate City Atty. Raul Salinas said the city doesn’t owe Robles anything.
“It’s a brazen effort by Mr. Robles to continue his efforts to extract whatever he can out of the city,” he said. “It’s rare for someone convicted for actions then to sue his employers for wrongful termination.”
But was he surprised?
“Nothing Mr. Robles does surprises me,” Salinas said.
Robles was convicted of soliciting more than $1.8 million in bribes from bidders on municipal contracts. Prosecutors alleged Robles used some of the kickbacks to buy a beachfront condo in Baja California for his mother. The jury found him guilty of 30 counts of bribery, money-laundering and depriving the electorate of his honest services.
But Robles argues that his conviction should have no bearing on his wrongful-termination case.
In 2003, when the city was near bankruptcy and reeling from corruption investigations, voters in South Gate recalled Robles and three allies on the City Council.
But just before Robles and his allies left office, they approved unusually generous severance packages for more than a dozen administrators, including Robles, who had been earning $10,800 a month by also serving as deputy city manager.
The new council, however, refused to honor the contracts. Robles’ wrongful-termination suit seeks to have the city restore the severance packages.
In his complaint, Robles alleges that the city broke a valid employment contract, acted in bad faith and trampled on his rights of due process, equal protection and free speech.
Robles, who said he attended the University of La Verne law school but didn’t finish, said he will be representing himself in the civil suit because he was dissatisfied with his lawyer’s performance in the federal case.
“I thought I could do no worse if I try to put my own case out there,” he said.
He is seeking unspecified damages, but he did say the amount should include back pay, pension, health benefits and compensation for emotional distress.
Gonzalez said the council fired Robles for good reasons, although he said he could not disclose them because personnel matters are private. “What I find particularly funny is he’s saying we legally broke his contract,” he said. “But his contract says we can fire for cause. We gave him a letter with a list of certain things he did wrong.”
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