Psychic Friends

Was John Schmitz nuts? Or did mobsters run Orange County?

Illlustration by Bob AulBy the time he died last year at 70, retired Orange County congressman and state senator John Schmitz did and said more strange things than the entire John Birch Society—a group that ultimately kicked him out. He called the 1965 Watts riots "a communist operation." He campaigned for family values yet fathered two children out of wedlock. John Birch Society officials gave him the boot for anti-gay and anti-Semitic remarks that shamed even them. In 1981, Schmitz declared that the U.S. needed "a military coup, or some other type of waiving of certain constitutional traditions."

Now, with the benefit of 80 pages of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files declassified at the Weekly's request, we know that, following his failed 1972 re-election bid, Schmitz—who claimed to be guided by psychic powers—tried to convince the FBI that organized crime had denied him a second term in Congress.

In June 1972, Schmitz lost the 39th Congressional District Republican primary to county assessor Andrew Hinshaw, an unknown moderate. According to a Jan. 26, 1973, FBI report heavily redacted for "personal privacy" reasons, Schmitz claimed two friends with "psychic powers" knew the location of "stolen ballots" that would prove he actually won the election.

The identities of Schmitz's "psychic" friends remain unknown. An undated FBI memo shows that one of these friends "appeared in the United States Attorney's office, Los Angeles, on July 14, 1972," and told the FBI that the "ballot boxes were allegedly hidden away in three locations in Orange County, California. These ballot boxes allegedly held ballots which were not counted in the June 6, 1972, election; and subsequently Schmitz lost the election," the report states.

The allegations of stolen ballots and psychic friends take up only a tiny portion of the FBI's Schmitz files. The majority of the Jan. 26, 1973, report deals with Schmitz's far more explosive assertion that organized crime had taken over Orange County government and derailed his candidacy.

"Schmitz alleged organized crime taking over local government in Orange County, California, and furnished names of individuals he believed were connected with organized crime," wrote the agent in the FBI's Jan. 26, 1973, report. Nothing in the files indicates the FBI found any evidence to support Schmitz's claims—or even that the bureau took them seriously.

A typical example of Schmitz's "evidence" that the mob played a hand in his defeat goes like this: "Schmitz noted that [deleted] was of Italian extraction, which might also indicate organized crime." In another, "Schmitz believed money from the administration was filtered into [deleted] through the activities of [deleted], a political friend of President Nixon's who was very active and influential in California."

Were these just the ravings of a bitter, perhaps unbalanced loser? Mostly. But Schmitz was correct in asserting that Nixon, organized crime and the Irvine Ranch—today called the Irvine Co., which was later purchased by Don Bren and which Schmitz described as the ultimate power in Orange County politics—were connected.

As Anthony Summers reported in his superlative 2000 book The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, famed Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen contributed $5,000 to Nixon's 1946 campaign for the 12th Congressional District, which Cohen considered his territory. In a 1975 statement dictated from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Cohen called Irvine Ranch boss Myford Irvine "my man in Orange County on certain propositions" and detailed how he had consulted with Irvine on the contribution.

"The contribution was important for me and for the county," wrote Cohen. "Irvine was powerful, in as far as he was instrumental and a part and parcel of me running out there. . . . I think a bigger amount was asked, but I Jewed him down to $5,000."

In January 1959, Irvine died of a shotgun blast to his stomach and a pistol bullet in his head. The Orange County coroner ruled the death a suicide.

Of course, all that went down decades before Schmitz sat down with federal agents. Was Schmitz talking about Cohen or some other mobster or just shooting off his mouth? Who knows? Releasing the remainder of the Jan. 26, 1973, FBI report would help, but bureau officials said they wouldn't do that any time soon.

 
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