Prose and Condiments
Does the seemingly never-ending story of Steve Rocco have a surprise, conspiratorial twist at (what we sincerely hope is) the end? Why, yes. Yes, it does
On April 16, after a three-day trial in Orange County’s Superior Court, a jury convicted former Orange Unified School District trustee Steve Rocco of stealing a half-empty bottle of Heinz ketchup from a Chapman University cafeteria. Rocco stood accused of purloining the squeezable, plastic, condiment container, which has a street value of $1.20, last September. After campus security guards found the item in the basket of Rocco’s bicycle and called the cops to have him charged, they retrieved the bottle, which presumably was placed back on a table.
The prosecution’s courtroom victory may have cost untold thousands of dollars, but at least county residents can rest assured that anybody harboring intentions of stealing a packet of salt or Sweet’N Low from a similar dining establishment stands warned that they, too, could be hauled before a judge to answer for their crime. Although Rocco faces jail time for his offense, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder said Rocco would likely receive at his May 26 sentencing hearing only probation and an order not to return to Chapman.
As loyal fans of the bizarre Rocco tale already know, this isn’t his first petty-theft conviction. The man whom Orange parents voted to oversee their children’s education in 2004, simply because he called himself an “educator,” was arrested at an Albertsons supermarket for shoplifting several rolls of Kodak film and a Smokecraft sausage in 1980. That’s when, by his own account, Rocco first discovered that an eerie cabal called the “Partnership,” made up of corporate entities such as Albertsons, Kodak and Smokecraft Sausage, secretly controls Orange County government. After becoming a school official, Rocco refused to vote on educational matters, focusing his attention instead on holding press conferences to expose the Partnership.
Moments after the jury rendered its verdict—see our Navel Gazing blog archive for details of the trial and what led up to it—Rocco told reporters gathered in the hallway that “this isn’t over” and invited them to attend yet another press conference the following day, when he’d tell them more. Rocco may have been hoping for TV vans equipped with satellite dishes, but besides the Weekly, all he got was Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit and a female Register reporter with a videocamera that Rocco refused to let her turn on. Among other things, Rocco claimed that just a few hours after he biked back to his house from Chapman, he discovered two bottles of ketchup in his mailbox—proof, Rocco suggested, that the Partnership was behind his arrest that day.
“They were empty, and they were Heinz,” Rocco said, adding that he immediately reported the incident to his trusty friend and sidekick Evan Harris—who previously witnessed attempts on Rocco’s life by Albertsons (see “Albertsons Wants Me Dead,” Feb. 25, 2005) and most recently signed a sworn declaration on Rocco’s behalf stating that Rocco doesn’t use ketchup or other condiments and that his arrest at Chapman was just the latest evidence of the Partnership’s conspiracy against Rocco.
Rocco brought Harris to last Friday’s press conference—and for good reason: Harris asserted that he had direct personal knowledge that Chapman University had conspired to frame his friend. In a rambling presentation, Harris claimed he overheard the plot being discussed on Feb. 12, 2008, while visiting the very cafeteria where Rocco would be arrested for stealing ketchup half a year later. Rocco, Harris explained, had received an anonymous telephone call a few days earlier, giving him the exact time and location that Jim Doti, president of the university, and Fred Smoller, a political science professor on campus who produced a documentary about Rocco (it was Smoller whom Rocco was trying to track down when he was busted), would be eating lunch together in the cafeteria at Chapman’s Argyros Forum.
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“I went through the cafeteria,” Harris said. “I spotted Mr. Doti and Fred Smoller. . . . I sat close to them, and they didn’t recognize me.” Harris says he overheard the two men mentioning several people who have figured prominently in Rocco’s conspiracy theories, including Tom Fulup, a supporter of park ranger Phil Martinez, whom Rocco defeated in his school-board race and who Rocco claims tried to run him over with his car. Harris also heard the name “Vanover,” a mysterious person Rocco believes is Fulup’s stepson. “Smoller said that if these people didn’t stop Rocco, that Vanover was going to kill him.”
Neither Harris nor Rocco could provide any further details on who exactly “Vanover” is, or why he or anyone else would want to have Rocco assassinated, but he invited the media to figure that out for him. “This is the opportunity right now for the people of Orange County to take back control of their county,” Rocco said. “And if this chance blows away, it’s gone.”
Taking Rocco up on his invitation, the Weekly asked Smoller about the dastardly conversation. “It‘s all true,” Smoller confessed in an exclusive interview. “But I am surprised that Mr. Harris didn’t mention that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were also at the lunch. However, when we discussed getting rid of Rocco, John said, ‘No’ and that we ‘should give peace a chance.’ And that is what we decided to do. . . . We decided to give peace a chance . . . and I am a better person for it.”