Fed Said: Ted Dead

FBI sting pops Santa Ana City Councilman Ted Moreno

Moreno flatly denied representing himself as an agent of the city on those calls. "That would be illegal," he said. "It would be a conflict of interest. I can't offer. I can't represent. No. Never."

Nor were Moreno's problems limited to residents and businesspeople. His clashes with City Council colleagues are legendary. Once, a councilman was near tears when Moreno ditched protocol and made a ceremonial motion himself, rather than letting the councilman who'd done the work make the motion of record. Asked whether he didn't think that was discourteous, Moreno giggled. "He was practically crying," Moreno said, sounding satisfied.

In one meeting, Moreno lectured the city clerk for seven minutes (even asking her like a stern, hectoring mom, "What do you have to say for yourself?"); informed Pulido he had reported him to the DA and the Fair Political Practices Commission; lambasted "the media"; and campaigned blatantly from the dais, saying: "Our current mayor blows with the wind. I won't be a weak mayor!"

Sadly, council insiders note that Moreno and Espinoza seem to have had a falling-out. For the past couple of months--about the time that Moreno used $3,000 in campaign funds to hire a defense attorney--they haven't talked to each other at meetings or even sat next to each other at informal council study sessions. Moreno says they avoid each other for appearance's sake, so people won't think they're conspiring.

"We will always be friends--for the rest of our lives," he said. "We're just being tested at this point in our relationship."

The grand jury did not indict any of the contributors to Moreno's political campaigns. Among the most frequent contributors were the employees of Riverside-based Mercer Construction. Mercer has done business in Santa Ana at least twice in the past several years: they built shopping centers at 17th Street and Bristol and on Tustin Boulevard.

Five Mercer secretaries, account executives and other low-level administrative assistants--none of whom live in Orange County--gave Moreno and his allies several hundred dollars each, several times during the 1996 election cycle. Such contributions are legal so long as they are not shielding the true source of the contribution.

Most of Mercer's employees identified in the campaign reports as donors aren't listed in the phone book. But Robert Erickson, who is listed as giving Moreno and Espinoza $249 each in 1996--even though he lives an hour away in Murrieta--confirmed that he worked for Mercer. However, when a Weekly reporter mentioned the campaign-finance indictments as a way to warming up to the question, "So what's a Murrieta-livin' guy like you doing giving to a Santa Ana city councilman like Ted Moreno?" Erickson interjected, "Oh, no. You've got the wrooong person." Then he hung up.

Among Moreno's supporters there is speculation that the indictments are payback for the councilman's outspoken opposition to what he saw as overly generous pay for Santa Ana's top police administrators. According to one prominent Santa Ana political insider, "Word on the street since 1997 has been that the police were furious with Ted and that he had better watch his back."

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