Robert Citron, Who Went From OC Treasurer's Office to Prison for 1994 Bankruptcy, Dies

OC Weekly started publishing in September 1995, something I remember because I'd been hired on the editorial side four months before that. It's also my memory that our cover story package dissecting the 1994 County of Orange bankruptcy, fallout and lessons learned/ignored was among the first to win us notice as practitioners of "real" journalism as opposed to our ever more popular snark wrapped around futon ads.

Now comes word that the architect of the financial free-fall that led to the bankruptcy has died.

Robert Citron, who went from being the county's treasurer and most powerful elected Democrat to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prisoner No. Somesuch, passed away Wednesday at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. He was 87.

I'd link you to that fine bankruptcy package if only I could find it online. Knock yourself out finding it, and if you do please stick a link in our comments section. My fear is the last hardcopy is in a garage somewhere, if a rat hasn't nested in it by now. Were I to have a copy, I could also post a photo of Citron here; all I can find online are copyrighted so, again, S.O.L.

I'll go off my foggy memory: During the height of Citron's county government reign, no one other than John Moorlach, then a private Costa Mesa accountant and conservative Republican Party activist, paid much attention to Citron in Orange County, except when we were cursing his name under our breaths as we made our property tax checks out to him.

Moorlach was cast as Chicken Little when he tried to alert the powers-that-be on the Board of Supes, Republicans all, that Citron was playing fast and loose with the county's treasure. Then came the news that Citron had lost about $1.7 billion on derivative investments, and the County of Orange became the first municipality in the country to file for bankruptcy. Sadly, others have joined us in that distinction since. 

No one had cared how Citron had been reaping huge profits on investments before the bottom fell out, but afterward came stories that he consulted with a $4.50 star chart prepared by an Indianapolis astrologer to help guide his strategy for the county's $20 billion investment pool. He'd go on to do nine months in prison. Moorlach would be hailed as a good government soothsayer.

The county miraculously emerged from bankruptcy 18 months after it was declared. Moorlach would assume the treasurer's seat, which he used as a springboard to the county Board of Supervisors. He's often served there as the board's chairman; he just recently gave up the gavel. No one would be surprised if he left the board for another political office with overwhelming support from voters.

The county's bond ratings, which had struggled for a bit, have rebounded nicely. The county does still have a problem with employee pensions, but there's bipartisan support and unions aboard to come up with a solution that will not drag the county into bankruptcy again. It's doubtful anyone will ignore anyone's predictions again. Well, not totally.

Indeed, the County of Orange and the Weekly of Orange County seem to have evolved so much from those days of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that I could not find anyone else on staff who was around back in the day to write this post as I was too busy attending to another matter: UFO sightings off the Orange Coast. (Hello, $4.50 star chart!) I wasn't even interested in dusting off what O.G. Weekling Jim Washburn continually reminds me was my best line, which I'd suggested as a new marketing slogan: "Orange County: We're Not Just Morally Bankrupt Anymore."

Here's how I got the short straw this morning:

Email: Robert Citron died
From: Matt Coker
To: OC Editorial
Time: 9:27 a.m.
Anyone else want to take this and/or have an angle other than Bob C. died?

From: Gustavo Arellano
To: Matt Coker, OC
Time: 9:28 a.m.
I say you or Mox.

From: Matt Coker
To: Scott Moxley, Gustavo Arellano
Time: 9:36 a.m.
Oh, God, Scott, if you could do it that would be great because I just found out Orly got rejected in court for her latest claim: that there are TWO Obamas named Barry and the one in the White House may be an Indonesian spy! I'd love to work on that but figure Citron should get up soon, too.

From: Nick Schou
To: Matt Coker
Time: 9:44 a.m.
I believe Moorlach predicted this would happen...*

To: Nick Schou
From: Matt Coker
Time: 9:57 a.m.

To: Matt Coker, OC
From: Scott Moxley
Time: 10:10 a.m.
Matt: Can you take it? [Citron] was a USC football fan.**

*Best line of the day!
**Curses, being a Trojan fan gets me on the hook every time around here

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