Tom Fuentes: professional schmoozer, circumventer of open processes, and THUG
Just what does this man do for a living?
In documents, he states that he is a consultant. But what does that mean?
Well, sometimes it seems to mean that he helps companies, and sometimes individuals, to get what they want—lucrative contracts, government positions, etc. For instance, he’s helped his pals at LFC get juicy County contracts (eyebrows rise); he’s helped his pal John Williams concoct a big, lucrative County job that's way above his IQ grade (more eyebrowage).
That’s what this man does. I guess.
Gosh, that’s a mighty odd way to make a living. I mean, just how does this work? Does Tom just show up and say, “OK, I’ll do what I do to try to get the county to hire you guys for such-and-such”?
That’s pretty vague. But how is such amorphous blobulosity to be avoided, if his job is to get people to want to hire somebody? I mean, that could involve just about anything, couldn’t it?
And wait a minute. Aren’t there usually defined processes for hiring and selecting vendors and such—procedures designed to ensure fairness and excellence and the like? How does a “consultant’s” job avoid running afoul of such processes? How can wining and dining and schmoozing and lolling about at the Balboa Bay Club spa avoid going way south of truth, justice, and the American way?
* * *Near as I can tell, Fuentes has had a series of jobs that include stuff that has routinely invited suspicions of dire corruptophilic hinkyhood. (I’ve indicated moments of potential hinkoid suspicion with “Bing.”)
From 1970-1974, Fuentes was OC Supe Ronald Caspers’ “executive assistant.”
But get this. Back in 1986, during a debate, Republican congressional wannabe Nathan Rosenberg, responding to a Fuentean criticism, called Fuentes "a bagman" for Caspers. [BING] (Nowadays, Rosenberg is Chairman of the Board for the Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America. That’s right, this grad of the US Air Force Academy is a Boy Scout.)
When Caspers died mysteriously in a boating accident off the coast of Baja, Fuentes got himself to a seminary to study for the priesthood. [BING!—well, he sure did act guiltily. He was supposed to be on that yacht but somehow missed the boat.]
It didn’t take. He was outa there after six months.
In the mid-70s, Fuentes became vice president of Robert Bein, William Frost and Associates, a big OC engineering firm. According to LA Times reporter Dexter Filkins (1996),
Fuentes performed mostly personnel work for the firm and sometimes lobbied public agencies for contracts. [BING?] Fuentes had a trademark: a dozen long-stemmed roses for select local politicians.Evidently, at some point in the last ten years, Fuentes ceased his VP gig with T&A, but he still “consults” for them.
"Do elected officials take my phone calls because I am party chairman?" Fuentes asked. "Yes. But the overwhelming majority of my work was internal." [BING! The lady doth protest too much!]
Earlier last year [i.e., 1995], Fuentes left the firm. He said he did so because he had an opportunity to sell his large stake in the company at a good price.
Company President Bob Kallenbaugh would not comment on the reasons for Fuentes' departure [BING: "no comment"="shit happened"], but he said the firm and Fuentes are on good terms.
Early last year, while still with the company, Fuentes lobbied members of the Anaheim City Council for the appointment of Tom Tait. Tait was appointed to the City Council in January 1995. Shortly afterward, in March 1995, Fuentes became a vice president at Tait and Associates, an Orange engineering firm where Tait is president.
Both Fuentes and Tait insist there was no link between Tait's appointment to the council and Tait's hiring of Fuentes a month later. [BING! boys, this don't look good]
In recent years, he’s been known to pass out business cards that announce that he is the “Senior Vice President” of LFC, a fancy real estate auction firm, and it’s clear that he does spend time and energy urging institutions to hire ‘em, but he seems determined to obscure his connection with the firm. Who knows, maybe he’s got cards saying he’s the VP of other firms, too. Maybe “VP” is code for something. Bagman.
Recently, suspicions of impropriety have arisen with regard to Fuentes’ role in getting John Williams hooked up with William Lange, LFC’s owner, and securing lucrative country contracts for the firm. [BING!]
OK, so here’s my point. I think I understand Fuentes' profession. Fuentes is a professional schmoozer and circumventer of procedures designed to secure fairness and quality. That’s my take. Am I wrong?
Because I’m in a peevish mood, I shall close with this curious passage from Filkins’ 1996 article:
In his drive to reduce the Democrats to political irrelevance, Fuentes has often taken on the role of GOP kingmaker.Yeah. This is not an isolated story. It's part of a pattern. Remember those poll guards he hired to hang around Latino polling places back in 1988? And have you ever seen him scream at people—often women—during meetings?
The list of people who accuse Fuentes of trying to arm-twist them into abandoning bids for public office includes a host of loyal Republicans: Assemblywoman Marilyn C. Brewer (R-Irvine), former Newport Beach Mayor Evelyn R. Hart, former Superior Court Judge Judith Ryan and management consultant Nathan Rosenberg.
All of them, at one time or another, sought the Republican nomination for public office. None heeded Fuentes' advice, but only Brewer won the nomination.
"He said my business would be ruined, and that my husband's business would be ruined," said Ryan, a challenger to U.S. Rep. Robert K. Dornan for his seat in 1992. "I was taken aback."
Tom Fuentes: professional schmoozer, circumventer of best practices, and THUG.
SEE Guiding with an Iron Hand (LA Times, 1996)
P.S.: I found an old LA Times article that might explain the mystery of Fuentes' odd departure from Robert Bein, William Frost & Associates:
O.C. Company's Gift-Giving Gets Attention (LA Times, 1993)
…[Robert Bein, William Frost & Associates or RBF] employs the services of two well-known political figures—county Republican Party chairman Thomas Fuentes and Costa Mesa City Councilman Peter F. Buffa, who also sits on the agency overseeing the San Joaquin Hills toll road.
RBF has given officeholders tens of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts and campaign donations. And it has hosted many politicians at special company events, such as an annual Christmas party aboard a yacht in Newport Harbor and an Easter prayer breakfast at Le Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach.
The company appears to have developed a particularly close relationship with top officials at the Santa Margarita Water District.
RBF has provided district General Manager Walter W. (Bill) Knitz and his assistant, Michael P. Lord, with nearly $14,000 worth of meals, trips and other gifts in recent years--at the same time the firm was receiving about $13 million in engineering work from the water district.
The FBI and the Orange County district attorney are now seeking to determine whether Lord and his boss violated federal or state laws governing the gifts that public officials can receive from people who have business before them.
Friday, both water district officials were suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigations.
bing bing bing bing bing bing bing bing bing bing bing!
● Firm Spent $12,000 on Water District Workers (LA Times, 1994)
● Water Officials Told to Report Past Gifts (LA Times, 1994)