Its a Wonderful Life

How Howard Hills learned the true meaning of integrity

After backing out, Hills called the Justice Department and told investigators everything he knew. "I welcome any investigation that gets out the facts on Jack's involvement with Guam," he said. "The saving grace for me is that I didn't do it for money and didn't know there was an improper purpose, and when I did know there was an improper purpose, I took the steps I could to extract myself from it," he said.

Hills said that after he came forward about his role in the scandal, he received telephone calls from both Democrats and Republicans who worked with him during his government career. "It appeared to a lot of people that I was in cahoots with these guys," he said. "Looking back, I wish I had done it differently. But when I came out and made it clear I had been involved, people supported me. It was like the end of It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart."

Hills says the scandal hasn't affected his consulting business—or his willingness to criticize local officials for what he perceives as their lapses. "I am carrying on in my professional career and am still involved in local politics—and I will keep stirring the pot becuase that's something I've done ever since I was student body president of Laguna Beach High School."

Ultimately, Hills said, he learned a valuable lesson from the experience—one he tried to communicate in his Coastline Pilot editorial on integrity. "You couldn't have gotten involved in a more negative situation than this Abramoff thing," he said. There are a lot of people who did business with [Abramoff]," he said. "I have a lot less explaining to do than a lot of people. And it has given me skills I think people can use—not to practice the politics of denial. That way, you end up getting more support from people, not less."

nschou@ocweekly.com

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