Pension board member helped fix deal, suit alleges
The newest overseer of America’s largest pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, is a political insider with a vast resume.
Louis F. Moret, appointed to the 13-person CalPERS board earlier this year, has served as chief operating officer of Southern California’s regional planning agency, a Los Angeles public works commissioner, chief of staff for a former assemblyman and, perhaps most famously, as a boxing referee.
Less well known are his troubles in South Gate.
The city is suing him for allegedly conspiring to fix a $48-million garbage contract. And he was described by federal prosecutors as the “political mentor” of the city’s disgraced political boss, Albert Robles.
At Robles’ 2005 criminal trial, testimony by Moret and others showed how he helped Robles award political favors. Robles was convicted of running a “pay-to-play scheme” that involved selling city contracts for kickbacks. He is in prison.
Moret never was charged with a crime.
Through his attorney, Moret denied profiting from the garbage contract and declined to be interviewed. Court papers show he is disputing the city’s lawsuit.Prosecutors assigned to the Robles case said they never seriously considered charging Moret.
“Could you have said he was part of the conspiracy? Probably,” said former Assistant U.S. Atty. Lee Arian, who directed much of the investigation. “But the evidence was fairly light, and we wanted to present the strongest case.”
At Robles’ trial, Moret testified that while working as a $12,000-per month city consultant, he gave interview questions in advance to a firm that Robles wanted to win the garbage contract, but not to its competitors. And when Robles’ favored firm for a sewer contract turned out to be the high bidder, Moret testified that he helped arrange for the contract to be rebid.
Moret was named to the CalPERS board in February by then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and confirmed by the state Senate Rules Committee. The board oversees the fund’s investments and decides who is hired to manage them.
Nunez said that appointing Moret, a volunteer board member for Los Angeles’ police and fire pension fund for 17 years, represented “an easy way out” of political conflicts. Three union groups had pushed different candidates.
Nunez said he did not know who suggested that Moret apply, but, when he saw the name, he said to himself, “I know this guy. He’s a boxing referee.”
Nunez noted that the South Gate lawsuit, which Moret had disclosed, involves unproven allegations. He said he was not aware of Moret’s testimony at Robles’ trial.
Moret, 63, is a member of an Eastside political clique led by boyhood friend Richard Alatorre. Alatorre hired him as his chief of staff when he served in the Assembly years ago. He also served as campaign chairman in Alatorre’s first L.A. City Council bid.
Moret testified that he met Robles in the mid-1990s. Newly elected to the South Gate City Council, Robles was serving on a transportation committee at the Southern California Assn. of Governments, where Moret was chief operating officer.
Moret testified that he befriended the ambitious young man and discouraged him from running for a state Assembly seat because the labor community and elected officials had already endorsed someone else.
“I had told him I think it’s going to be a tough uphill battle,” Moret testified. “He suggested that he could probably win the [South Gate] city treasurer because there was an old lady there. . . . It was a career move I thought would be good.”
When Robles won the treasurer’s post in 1997, he used it to consolidate power in the working-class city, successfully running City Council candidates, including a City Hall receptionist and her cousin, a beautician. Robles wound up with a reliable three-vote majority and a city attorney who was his mother’s divorce lawyer.
After Robles asked Moret in 2001 to serve as a city consultant, he assigned Moret to run the committee evaluating trash contract bids. He told him which of the competing firms -- Klistoff & Sons -- was his “horse in the race,” Moret testified.
Klistoff was the high bidder among three finalists, but co-owner Michael Klistoff later admitted in a plea bargain that he had promised to pay millions for an inside track.
Moret, who said he did not know of any kickbacks, testified that Robles “asked me if I knew anybody who could prep” the Klistoff firm for questioning by the committee.
Moret, who holds a doctorate in public administration from the University of La Verne, testified that he recruited his old public administration professor to help Klistoff prepare. He testified that he gave the professor a list of questions he had written for committee members to ask.
Moret’s lawyer, his brother, Gilbert Moret, dismissed the significance of the questions, saying in a brief telephone interview that they were innocuous.
Moret also helped Psomas, an engineering firm that Robles wanted to win a sewer repair contract, testimony showed.
Psomas’ bid was much higher than its only competitor’s. Moret testified that he looked at the bids and told Robles “something to the effect that ‘Boy, your friends are pigs’ ” and that Robles replied, “I’ll take care of it.”
Moret testified that he proposed giving Psomas and its competitor a chance to resubmit their bids, citing confusion about how much work the city wanted.
Psomas’ competitor stood pat. Psomas reduced its bid and was awarded the $2.3-million contract.
Moret has also been accused of trying to fix the selection of a South Gate deputy police chief.
Former Huntington Park Police Chief Patrick Connolly said in a sworn declaration that Moret asked him to serve on the selection committee but told him he would have to agree to “select this certain candidate.”
Connolly’s declaration was filed in court as part of a failed attempt by the police union to thwart the selection.
Gilbert Moret, the attorney, confirmed that his brother asked Connolly to serve on the selection committee but never asked Connolly to pick a certain candidate. “He didn’t even know who the candidates were,” the attorney said.