Saturday, June 30, 2012

Former SOCCCD director of public affairs Pam Zanelli once worked for Dr. Louis Cella

Welcome to the OC
     I thought I smelled a rat, and I was right. (See Remember Zanelli?)
     I did a little more looking into Pam Zanelli’s background and discovered something very interesting.
     First, a little review. Denizens of the SOCCCD will remember Pam Zanelli as the notorious political consultant, hired by the corrupt Old Guard (the secretive leadership of the SOCCCD’s faculty union) back in 1996, in a desperate effort to get its slate of “fiscal conservatives” elected onto the board. (Once elected, the new board would reward the union with a contract giving leadership an array of goodies.)
     Zanelli, a Democrat, had advised the group that benefits for same-sex partners was a “hot-button issue” among local Neanderthals—er, Republicans. And so union leadership, exhibiting a startling lack of principle, sent Republican households the infamous red “same-sex” flier, which relied on distortions, misrepresentations, and (of course) homophobia to persuade voters to vote against the opposing slate (called PIE), led by Dave Lang.
     The flier worked (only Lang prevailed over a union candidate, viz., Davis). By December of 1996, the union had its majority on the board. The era of the notorious "board majority" (at first John Williams, Steve Frogue, Dorothy Fortune, and Teddi Lorch; after the election of '98, Williams, Frogue, Fortune, Nancy Padberg, and Don Wagner) commenced. Everything went to hell, and fast.
     In 1997, despite the obvious conflict of interest, the board hired Zanelli as their chief PR flak. They kept her for two or three years, but she somehow inspired the enmity of Padberg or Fortune (not sure), and so she got canned.
     Recently, I noted that she had previously worked for Paul Carpenter, a corrupt local (and state) politician associated with “Dick and Doc”Dick O’Neill and Dr. Louis Cellathe infamous campaign finance partnership that essentially “bought” the OC Board of Supervisors in the 1970s—Orange County’s most dramatic era of corruption.
     Paul Carpenter had also been involved (in 1969 or 1970) in Ronald Caspers’ ruthless campaign to discredit Republican Supervisor Alton Allen. Like Carpenter, Ron Caspers was among D&D’s stable of politicians. (It seems likely that the effort to target Allen was directed by Fred Harber on behalf of D&D.)
     And, of course, throughout this period, Tom Fuentes was Ron Caspers’ right-hand man.

* * *
Caspers' left-hand man
     ZANELLI AND CELLA. Today, I did more digging and discovered that Zanelli was much closer (in some sense) to the Dick and Doc operation than I had thought. She actually worked for Louis Cella in one of his hospitals!
     Lemme explain. In January of 1979, Republican Harriett Wieder had just been elected as Orange County’s first female Supervisor. She had replaced Laurence Schmit, a Republican who had been among O’Neill and Cella’s stable of hinky pols. (He somehow managed to avoid the attention of OC DAand RepublicanCecil Hicks, who vigorously pursued anti-corruption prosecution at the time.)
     On Jan 18, 1979, the Times (“New Supervisor Has 5 Women on Staff of 7”) listed and described Wieder’s new staff:
     —Mrs. Zanelli, 32, of Santa Ana, who handled press relations in Mrs. Wieder’s campaign and is one of three Democrats on the Republican supervisor’s staff.
     Mrs. Zanelli … has worked in the campaigns or offices of Rep. Jerry Patterson (D-Santa Ana), state Sen Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress) and Assemblyman Chet Wray (D-Westminster).
     She also did political publicity work for former Democratic financier Dr. Louis J. Cella Jr., receiving $5,400 from one of Cella’s hospitals in 1974. Cella is serving a federal prison term for income tax evasion and embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from two Orange County hospitals.
     “I was one of the people who didn’t know what Cella was doing,” Mrs. Zanelli said. Mrs. Wieder said she was “totally unaware” of Mrs. Zanelli’s work for Cella. “I brought Pam on because she is great on research,” the supervisor said.
     She will handle publicity and appointments to commissions for Mrs. Wieder.
     —John P. Erskine, 27, of Huntington Beach, the only holdover aide from Mrs. Wieder’s predecessor, Laurence Schmit….
     I’ve talked to reporters who were there in 1974. One described how Cella’s hospitals would have large wings devoted to political activitynothing medical went on there. 
     “There was all this printing equipment there," said one reporter. "It was strange.”
     Evidently not so strange to Pam Zanelli!
     By September of the same year (1979), Zanelli left Wieder “to do political consulting work…” (LA Times, Sep. 16, 1979). (I should note that Zanelli seemed to be back working with Supervisor Wieder again in the late 80s.)
     A bit after her 1979 exodus from Wieder’s crew, Zanelli pops up in connection with Governor Jerry Brown (who was known to be friendly with campaign contributor Cella). In 1981, the LA Times (“Visit linked to possible senate bid," Feb 28, 1981) reported about a recent “little-known” visit by Brown to Orange County. At the time, Democrats grumbled that Brown hadn’t given OC enough attention, and so a group of Democrats, including Pam Zanelli, organized a wine-and-cheese party at the Huntington Beach home of somebody named Francis Malloy. Lots of wealthy Dems and Repubs were invited.
     According to the Times, “Among those who attended were business executives and developers invited by Frank Michelena, a well-known Orange County lobbyist.”
     Frank Michelena?

     THE MICHELENA MAN. Michelena’s name is one that pops up throughout OC’s (shady) history going back more than forty years. He was a notorious “lobbyist,” someone who was hired to get a firm close to people, including public officials, who decided who'd get lucrative contracts. (We've mentioned Mr. Michelena's "generous" ways previously: 1976: Tom Fuentes, lobbyist, deputy.)
     Kinda like Lyle Overby and, um, Tom Fuentes.
     Now, as it turns out, Michelena worked with Tom Fuentes during the latter’s formative years as a political apparatchik/consultant/gopher.
     According to former OC GOP chairman Tom Rogers, in about 1970,
     Caspers hired a young graduate of Chapman College ... to serve on this staff. As Casper’s assistant, Tom Fuentes … worked diligently to convince Republicans that Caspers was not what many party regulars feared, an unscrupulous opportunist who had no permanent loyalty to any political party. Fuentes was aided in his duties by the ubiquitous Frank Michelena. Michelena, a lobbyist with a checkered career, was notorious in the field of political influence. (Agents' Orange, 2000)
     Rogers obviously has a low regard of Mr. Michelena—and, I think, of Mr. Fuentes.
     At one point, he identifies three (roughly defined) eras of “machine” politics in Orange County.
     The first, which arose in the 60s, was dominated by Democrats and involved O’Neill, Cella (a nominal Republican), and Fred Harber, among others. But that machine slowly transformed into a “hybrid” that embraced both Democrats (like Harber and Robert Battin) and Republicans (like Caspers and Schmit). In this second “machine,” says Rogers, the “emphasis shifted from political philosophy to corporate profits.”
     Rogers identifies Ron Caspers, Tom Fuentes, and Frank Michelena as central to this disturbing political contraption.
     (According to R, there’s a third machine that Rogers associates with the “Cave Men”: a group of religious right Republicans who are focused on defending incumbents who share their right-wing philosophy. Dana Rohrabacher and Curt Pringle [the latter a close associate of Tom Fuentes], he says, are key to this third “machine.”)

* * *
     So there we have it. First, Pam Zanelli was part of Dr. Louis Cella's operation, at least in the narrow business sense, back in 1974. It is possible, I suppose, that she "didn't know what Cella was doing." But it is highly unlikely, I think.
     Zanelli was not new to politics at the time. In 1975, she was among 15 women chosen to serve on the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women.
     Second, she worked under Paul Carpenter, though I don't know when. Already in 1969, Carpenter was one of Dick and Doc's soldiers, and perhaps that suggests that Zanelli worked for Carpenter during the same era in which she worked for Cella. (Carpenter was based in Cypress, as was Fred Harber, who had been the City Manager.)
     Carpenter was dirty. According to Rogers, he played a part in the stunning shenanigans that caused Alton Allen's loss of his Supervisorial seat. It is reasonable to suppose that he participated in similar activities in subsequent years, the years of the rise of Cella and O'Neill's influence (which peaked at about 1975). 
     At any rate, by the 80s, Carpenter, always a sly character, was caught selling votes in Sacramento. When he died in 2002, the Times described his spectacular fall as a public servant:

     ...[H]is maverick behavior led to trouble in 1986 when, during his successful campaign for the Board of Equalization, he became a target of an FBI sting in which federal agents surreptitiously contributed money to lawmakers in exchange for legislative favors.
     Convicted in 1990 of racketeering, extortion and conspiracy for accepting $20,000 from a fictitious shrimp fishery, Carpenter got off on a technicality when a federal appeals court ruled that the jury had not been properly instructed. But he was forced to leave public office.
     In a separate case three years later, a jury convicted him on 11 counts of obstruction of justice and money laundering....
     "I was arrogant," Carpenter admitted to a Times reporter in 1993 during the trial, in which he was accused of illegally funneling $78,000 to [Sen. Alan] Robbins through a Santa Monica public relations firm.
     Shortly before he was to be sentenced, Carpenter fled to Costa Rica, saying he was seeking "a more adventuristic" treatment for the prostate cancer that doctors had predicted would kill him within two years. He wrote in a note to the judge: "I find my drive for survival stronger than my sense of obligation to your legal system."
     His drive for survival didn't keep him and a friend from enteringand winninga national bridge tournament in the Central American nation.
     Tracked down less than a year later by U.S. officials, Carpenter spent several months in a Costa Rican jail before being returned to California for sentencing.
With his cancer in remission, Carpenter was sentenced in 1995 to seven years in federal prison. After his release from prison in 1999, Carpenter settled in seclusion in San Antonio ... in 1986.
     It is possible, of course, that Zanelli worked for this guy and had no idea that he was mighty hinky.
    Yeah. She's either clueless or hinky. Take your pick.
    Third—and least compelling, I suppose—she seemed to know and work with Frank Michelena, who was part of the highly Nixonian Team Caspers along with Fuentes and Harber. That's worth mentioning, I guess. Or maybe not.
     Ah, the SOCCCD saga! It just gets better and better, doesn't it?

[Note to self: among those who gave to Alton Allen during the 1970 campaign: Donald Bren, assistant to Allen, John Killefer, Frank Michelena--$500 each. Raub Bein Frost: $350. Beckman, Segerstrom, and Graham gave $250. Among Supe. Baker's contributors were Bren and Michelena.  Zitnik gave to Wilcoxen. Times, 7/8/70. Looks like Michelena soon switched horses to Caspers. Derek McWhinney gaver to Caspers in 1970! Oddly, so did Old Guard's Athalie Clark.]


     At some point, Pam married one Jeff Zanelli—presumably by 1975, since she was using his name by then. They later divorced, but I don’t know when.
     Jeff Zanelli was/is in the same business—political consulting. His name comes up in Democratic politics starting in the early 60s.
     Jeff, like Pam, was in some sense employed by Dr. Louis Cella. According to a 1975 Times article about Louis Cella’s criminal trial(s) (“Subpoena Quashed in Investigation of Cella,” Dec. 9, 1975),

     The federal grand jury is investigating alleged federal income tax evasion by Cella and two hospitals in which he is a major owner…. ¶ Cella … allegedly obtained money from the two hospitals by causing checks to be issued on the basis of phony invoices for nonexistent supply orders. ¶ He allegedly also caused the hospitals to pay some of the political campaign costs and some persons who worked on campaigns.
     Testifying before the federal grand jury Monday were Jerry Zanelli, staff director of the State Senate Democratic Caucus and administrative aide to Sen. David Roberti (D-Hollywood). Hospital sources said Zanelli has been paid more than $20,000 by the two hospitals.
     In 1982, Zanelli was still working for Roberti. In a Times article about the dishonest tactics routinely employed by the Newport Beach consulting firm Butcher-Forde, we’re told that Roberti sent his man Zanelli to help with the mailers for two other Democratic candidates, including State Sen. Alex Garcia, who sent mailers that falsely claimed a big endorsement, and Al Serrato, who sent mailers that were arguably racist :

     …[T]here is a continuing dispute involving mailers sent out by the campaign of Al Serrato, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the new 32nd Senate District seat in Orange County. ¶ The mailers said that one of Serrato’s opponents “marched with Vietnamese in black pajamas,” had a “Vietnamese businessman” as a chief financial supporter, and considered “Indochinese refugees” a major campaign issue. … ¶ After the Orange County Democratic Party’s ethics committee had “condemned” the mailing as “blatantly racist,” Serrato publicly insisted that he did not authorize some of the language it contained. But [ArnoldForde, of Butcher-Forde, responded that Serrato had “designed the piece himself” and that the firm had only handled its distribution.
     Later, a variety of sources suggested that Jerry Zanelli, an aide ordered by Roberti to assist both the Garcia and Serrato campaigns, was responsible. ¶ …Zanelli said that while he had provided the money for the piece in question and had been in touch with Forde about distribution, he had never so much as looked at the contents. (“Dirty Campaign Tactics Creating Alarm,” LA Times, Jun 14, 1982)
     Of course.
     You’ll recall that “Dick and Doc’s” (i.e., Richard O'Neill and Dr. Louis Cella's) political strategist, Fred Harber, was very close with Butcher-Forde and that Forde worked on Ron Caspers’ first political campaign (in 1970). Tom Fuentes managed that campaign. Later, Fuentes became Caspers’ chief aide and no doubt had many dealings with Harber, Butcher, and Forde.

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