Poo Fighters

Once a friend of land developers, Garry Brown has joined the battle to keep OCs beaches free of the brown stuff

Brown offered to get the newspapers off the supervisor's ass and—after the lunch—retire his campaign debt in exchange for the planning-commission appointment.

"He thought about it and said, 'Okay, we'll try that.' So I called some people. The newspapers went hush, and everyone knew to come to the lunch with a check for $1,000. And everyone did.

By the time dessert was served at the luncheon, the supervisor had received 30 $1,000 campaign donations. "And he," Brown concludes, "gave us back a planning commissioner."

Brown explains that in the 1970s, "the building industry learned it was not in the building industry; it was in the permission industry. With a typical development, you have to deal with all of these various agencies. It takes a tremendous amount of money to do that.

"When I represented Realtors, they had the numbers as far as members, but they made few campaign contributions. Developers, by contrast, were few in number but realized money was needed to get friends in places you need to get permission. Half the battle was permission."

That battle caught the attention of a few critics. "We were getting deemed by the papers as too powerful and totally running and controlling the Board of Supervisors."

Was that true?

Pause.

"Yeah," he answers.

Brown's grip on government grew tighter and tighter. In 1982, he served as campaign manager for cowboy-boot-sporting San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell. (Tidwell was to San Bernardino County what former Sheriff Brad Gates was to OC.) Brown would later be named an honorary deputy and member of the Sheriff's Council, a group of 28 citizens (including the late cowboy star Roy Rogers) who raised funds to assist various projects of the department and other county police agencies.

"I learned a lot," Brown says. "I was naive in those days, and I got in the middle of a huge power struggle that I didn't even know was going on."

Brown blames that struggle for his April 4, 1986, arrest in what authorities and local headlines trumpeted as a "prostitution ring." He was the most prominent figure among nine people busted in the case. According to court documents, he was paid $18,000 to win approval of a desert massage parlor, which was alleged to be a front for prostitution.

According to Brown, he was framed.

County government had once been in the pocket of businessmen who had been pushed aside by the increasingly powerful BIA, according to Brown. One of those businessmen "had been considered the godfather of the county Board of Supervisors," he says. All of them were on the lookout for a chance to get Brown and the BIA.

That chance came when Brown sold an acre of land he owned in the desert town of Adelanto for $40,000 to a man who owned massage parlors elsewhere in the county. But there was a condition on the sale: Brown had to use his connections to guide the project through the planning and building stages. Brown agreed and brought in an Apple Valley builder who belonged to the BIA to construct the High Desert Health Spa. Brown claims all members of the Adelanto City Council and planning commission attended the club's grand opening. "I never kept my involvement a secret," he says.

He admits Tidwell warned him that the club owner was involved in illegal activities. But Brown claims that by then, he had grown disenchanted with the sheriff because he'd witnessed the county's top cop "in several compromising positions." Brown says because he trusted the club owner more than the sheriff, he didn't heed the warning.

According to Brown, the builder he brought in later tied one on at a local country-club bar and bragged to patrons that he could get them "free BJs" at the spa—even though, Brown says, the builder hadn't been there since the opening. "It was just drunk talk," he says. Unfortunately, that drunk talk was overheard by two members of the county grand jury who were sitting at the bar.

Through the builder, Brown later met two men who wanted help building another massage parlor, this one in Palm Springs. Nothing came of the talks—until later, when it became clear that the two men were actually undercover investigators. In March 1986, law-enforcement officials raided two massage parlors owned by the man Brown had represented.

And then life got weird for Garry Brown. The day after the massage parlors were searched, Brown's 22-year-old wife, Jamie, was killed in an automobile wreck on Interstate 215 outside San Bernardino. Brown says he was waiting for her with a police officer friend at a San Bernardino restaurant. Instead, four other police officers—"pale as ghosts"—arrived at the restaurant and broke the news of Jamie Brown's death. Before he had much time to grieve, Brown says, the officers asked where his 18-month-old son was. The wreck had been cleared, but the freeway remained closed because baby clothes were strewn across the scene and no child was in sight.

Brown says he knew his wife had dropped the baby off with a sitter, but he went blank on their baby sitter's name, phone number and address. He tried to direct officers over the police radio to the baby sitter's house by naming nearby streets and the color of the home. Finally, the house was found. The boy was safe. The freeway was reopened.

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