O.C. Trash Firm Owner Is Sentenced to Prison

Times Staff Writer

A man once embraced as a hometown hero was sentenced Friday to nearly 15 years in prison for bilking the city of Orange out of $4.3 million through his trash hauling company.

Jeffrey Hambarian, 51, who had faced up to 20 years in prison, was also ordered to pay $12 million in restitution and fines.

Hambarian's attorney, Mark Geragos, unsuccessfully sought a sentence similar to those given to Martha Stewart and other executives with no criminal history. Stewart was sentenced to a short jail term and probation.

"This isn't a crime of violence," Geragos said. "I don't know what warehousing him in a state prison would do."

A jury in August found Hambarian guilty of 47 counts of grand theft, fraud, embezzlement, money-laundering and filing false tax income statements.

"There are no dead bodies, no mutilated bodies," conceded Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ronald Cafferty. "Nonetheless, these are serious crimes."

The scam surfaced in 1995 after an accountant for Hambarian's trash firm, Orange Disposal Services, alerted the city to discrepancies in the annual audit.

News of the scam distressed the tight-knit community, which regarded civic-minded Hambarian as a favorite son who gave generously to charity and was friendly with politicians. The disclosure also caused a rift in City Hall and ultimately the firing of the town's police chief after he started investigating the leak of sensitive internal documents to reporters.

Prosecutors said Hambarian blackmailed his vendors into padding and faking invoices, then forced them to funnel the profits to him, laundering the money through check-cashing businesses in south Los Angeles County.

Hambarian also had his trash hauling company bill the city for unneeded items such as tires and truck products, which he later sold, pocketing the proceeds, officials said.

"He instigated it. He induced it. He created fictitious invoices," Cafferty said. "This case was just full of all sorts of dishonest and deceptive behavior."

Geragos said Hambarian had done nothing wrong and was the victim of a conspiracy by vendors who were promised immunity by the government.

In fact, Hambarian tried to save the city money, he said. Residents were paying as little as $3 a month for trash services and Orange was receiving $1 million a year in revenue from the hauling. But now, Geragos said, the city receives nothing and residents are paying $10 a month.

Hambarian, his gray hair uncombed, showed no emotion as Orange County Superior Court Judge Frank F. Fasel handed down the sentence. Relatives seated several rows behind him wept. They declined to comment.

Cafferty said Hambarian deserved the maximum sentence for cheating residents and the city, and for disrupting the lives of those with whom he did business.

Hambarian "has offered no explanation" and "has not taken any responsibility or expressed any remorse," he said.

Cafferty suspected that Hambarian used the money to pay debts. In 1993, he owed only $280,000 on his $3-million hillside home and paid off a $500,000 trust deed, Cafferty said. He also spent more than $500,000 to rehabilitate a fire-damaged house, and in 1995 he paid off a Mercedes-Benz. There was no explanation of where he got the money, Cafferty said.

"This was an intentional act," said Mayor Mark A. Murphy, who was on the City Council at the time of Hambarian's arrest. "I'm happy to see justice served. It's been a long process."

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