Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Fuentes file: Fred Harber & the ubiquity of violent death

Can't find pic of Harber,
but I did find a pic
of his daughter!
     Recently, I suggested that we need to understand Mr. Tom Fuentes, his career and his significance, in relation to his formative years—namely, his four-or-so years working with and for Ronald Caspers, the Orange County Supervisor, fifth district, from 1971 until Caspers’ mysterious death in June of 1974. Fuentes was young back then: he turned 23 in 1971.
     Fuentes managed Caspers’ successful campaign for the post in 1970. Afterward, Fuentes was made a “consultant” to Caspers’ S&L; he was also made Caspers’ assistant down at the County (ultimately, Caspers, as Supervisor, hired two assistants, but Fuentes seemed to be the first and chief assistant).
     I have suggested that the 1970 campaign—especially efforts, involving various members of the “Coalition,” to damage the reputation of incumbent Alton Allen—was extremely sleazy, with no-holds-barred on Caspers’ side.
     Caspers spent nearly $90,000, much of it his own, to secure that job—a job that made less than $20,000 a year.
     At the time, many wondered what he was up to.
     According to the man who was the chairman of the OC GOP at the time, Tom Rogers, Caspers represented recognition of an opportunity to make huge sums of money by working with developers. After Caspers, the Board of Supes was about opportunities to support Supes who were happy to allow the special interests to develop the crap out of Orange County. The game was all about increasing density and maximizing profits: the Supervisors win, the developers win. Everybody's happy.
     And Tom Fuentes was “there” for the birth and rapid growth of this ugly new reality.
     My case for Caspers’ corruption relies somewhat on the notion, inspired by a 1978 lawsuit, which was settled out of court, that Caspers and his crony Fred Harber engaged in a “shakedown” of a developer, Richard Jordan—leading some to wonder whether this was a routine practice of theirs.
     Yesterday, I found a marvelous 1978 Times article that paints quite a picture of the Jordan affair. That piece referred to the apparent fact that, seventeen years earlier, when Harber was the City Manager of Cypress, he had participated in a bribery scheme that greatly resembled the one Jordan was approached with back in 1974 (namely, the bit about $2,000 a month). (See below.) At the time (1961), Harber secured immunity from prosecution by agreeing to testify that he and another man, Cypress City Councilman Job Denni, were receiving $2,000 a month in bribes.


     But get this: the case was dropped after Denni died in a plane crash.
     And that wasn’t the only plane crash that took out people involved in that case. (More soon.)
     Since I started to look into Caspers and the "Coalition," I've kept running into stories of peculiar violent deaths. I've already discussed the mysterious 1974 loss of Harber's "Shooting Star," which apparently took ten lives, including Harber, Caspers, and an assistant to Supervisor Clark. (Tom Fuentes and Lyle Overby were supposed to be on that trip. Fuentes never came aboard; Overby actually got off the boat before it headed up the coast.)
Arlene Hoffman
     Then there's Harber's secretary, Arlene Hoffman, who was killed with an arrow in 1994 (as she started work with yet another OC Supervisor). The case was never solved.
     Evidently, back in the early seventies, a "probate referee" connected to yet another member of the "Coalition" was mysteriously murdered (haven't found any details about that yet).
     Here's one I've not mentioned before: in the mid-50s, Caspers, an expert yachtsman, crashed his boat, which killed his first wife. Her body was never found.
     What does it all mean? Maybe nothing.
     Beyond that, the stuff is fascinating, to me at least.
     Details to come.

6 comments:

  1. The number of deaths seems out of proportion to the number of players.

    What is this, New Jersey?

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  2. My Dad retired from the Navy in 1968 and started attending Chapman College to complete his BA and earn his teaching credential. At the time I was in junior high school. He had been a submarine captain and took pride in the young officers he had groomed over the years. I distinctively remember talking about a young student who he met in his classes and what potential he had and if he wanted to he would make a good navy officer. That young student was Tom Fuentes. I also remember him mentioning that Fuentes was working as the evening clerk at one of the motels near Disneyland but that he was destined for bigger and better things.

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  3. Roy, do you know if Fred Harber's daughter still living or if he has any other surviving relatives?

    Have you done any research on Leonard "Bum" Bashor, Robert C. Bashor & Richard A. Tully. They were the other 3 men aboard the Shooting Star.
    Of course I only know their full names because my Grandma attended their memorial service & I have a copy of the program.

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  4. Sherry, Harber's daughter's name is Shaye K. Aschenbrenner. She is (or was) married to Richard D. Aschenbrenner, son of Frank A Aschenbrenner (the latter may or may not be the well-known football figure). Shaye attended Mater Dei High School (here in OC) and also Santa Ana College.
    No, I have not pursued this angle. I doubt that it would be useful (why would the daughter be willing to reveal allegations of her father's corruption? It is very possible that she didn't know about them and has never heard about them--even assuming they're true.) Same goes for the surviving Caspers. I know he has a daughter still in the area. Not inclined to contact her.
    I have made much headway recently exploring Fred Harber's activities. It now appears that the "dirtiness" of Caspers' office is more than an insinuation. (Be looking for my next post and subsequent posts.) Fuentes seems to have had some (possibly merely incidental) part in one particular "deal" that seems to have gone down--concerning Mr. Jordan.
    Right now, I'm trying to chase down the facts concerning the violent deaths that seem to crop up so often in the broader "Fred Harber" saga. It's impossible to guess how promising that "lead" is. We'll see, I suppose. But something isn't right here--that's my strong intuition.
    The Jordan case is linked to the sinking of the SS: Jordan was invited on that trip, but he declined in part because (supposedly) the boat was unseaworthy. That makes three people who bailed on that one trip. Why all concerning this one trip (among several)? Odd.

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  5. Doug, did your father's thoughts about TF extend to the chance he (TF) would become a middling prince of darkness?

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  6. True, even if she did know anything, she probably wouldn't want to implicate him in any way, even now 38 years later. It is odd that now there are 3 people that decided not to get on that boat or hopped off at the last minute. ONE I can chalk up to a mere coincidence but THREE???? That screams a lot more than coincidence to me, that's downright corruption!!! So many lives have been lost over these men and their lies, it just makes me sick!!!!!

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