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Motivational Guru to Give South Gate $45,000 Refund

Times Staff Writer

Here’s one testimonial you won’t find on motivational guru Tony Robbins’ next infomercial.

In 2002, then-South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles took a group of city employees to a seminar at the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove. In the parking lot of the hotel, along with hundreds of other people, they walked across rows of glowing hot coals -- part of Robbins’ self-help regime.

Afterward, Robles became a “platinum member” of Robbins’ company. The connection -- for which the city paid $65,000 -- has since become a source of discomfort after Robles was convicted of bribery and municipal corruption.

This week, Robbins’ company agreed to refund $45,000 to the cash-strapped city. So ends the strange relationship between a famous self-help juggernaut who lectures CEOs and celebrities and the small working-class town.

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As a platinum member, Robles went to private events in Fiji and Prague, Czech Republic -- and had little tolerance for employees who didn’t get with the program.

“One of the employees testified that the director of public works

Robbins’ attorney, Peter Selvin, said the organization had no knowledge of Robles’ misdoings when they received his application for platinum membership.

“Once it became clear to us that a former city official used misappropriated funds to pay for a membership in our organization, we felt returning the money to the city was the right thing to do,” Selvin said. “We gave the money back willingly. We have no relationship nor have we ever had a relationship with the former city official in question.”

Robles declined to comment.

Earlier this summer, representatives for Robbins’ organization testified in federal court about Robles’ platinum membership, which was described during the trial as the organization’s “most VIP program.” Among the exhibits were pictures in Fiji and Prague -- including one of Robles clad in shorts sitting across from Robbins.

“You do have to pay for the trips, but [platinum membership] gives you direct access to Anthony Robbins,” Valenzuela said. “You get to network with these people who apparently can afford to be in the platinum program.”

Federal authorities alleged that Robles masterminded a kickback scheme involving several city contracts that cost South Gate $12 million. City officials said that fees from attorneys whom Robles and his allies hired before being recalled from office last year and other contracts cost the city several million dollars more, though they do not have an exact number.

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The Robbins platinum membership was one of several perks prosecutors said Robles had the city cover. He also purchased a beachside condo in Baja California through a shell corporation in his mother’s name.

At one point, South Gate’s deficit was $6 million.

City officials praised the Robbins organization for repaying South Gate.

“It’s great that the Robbins people recognized that it was appropriate to return most of the money,” City Manager Gary Milliman said.

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Since Robles and his allies’ ouster during a recall election in 2003, the city has gone after companies, law firms and individuals it alleges unfairly benefited because of Robles.

South Gate has recovered more than $3.3 million alone from law firms that were connected to Robles, City Atty. Raul Salinas said.

In addition, a waste-hauling company agreed to repay the city $8.5 million and to sell its assets as a result of deals during the Robles era.

“Paying for a platinum membership for this program may be appropriate for individuals or companies who can afford it,” Milliman said. “But South Gate is not among the top echelon of corporations in America.”

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Valenzuela, the federal prosecutor, believes Robbins may have unwittingly been pulled into Robles’ orbit.

“I think Albert Robles’ actions put a lot of people in very compromising positions,” Valenzuela said. “And I think Anthony Robbins is one such example.”


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