And, of course, during the last dozen years of his life, starting in the summer of 2000, he was a trustee of the SOCCCD board here in South County. I knew a little about him before that. But, starting that summer, he brought a deep dark realpolitik to the good ol' SOCCCD. It was like Satan decided to come live in the neighborhood.
He was pretty complicated. In his youth in the late 50s and early 60s, he worshipped Richard Nixon, and not because of Dick's love of puppies. Fuentes especially admired Nixon's no-holds-barred approach to the opposition, which was already evident in his run against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950.
pedophile priests, and not their victims, were routinely protected by the church hierarchy.
What's up with that? asks Gustavo Arellano.
Despite his right-wing politics, Tom remained in good standing with Catholic officials—until 1988, when his political tactics became too visibly Nixonian: he hired uniformed "guards" to stand outside of polling places to intimidate Latino voters. Catholic officials took a dim view of that. It smacked of racism. Tom lost his Diocese gig. There was litigation; the party paid a huge settlement.
Once in a while, Tom would get outed like that for the bastard he was.
Fuentes was a self-loathing Chicano—and a self-loathing gay man to boot. Self-hatred plus the other-directed kind seemed to be at his core.
He hated women. With Fuentes in charge, only seriously old school gals could find a place on Team GOP, baking cookies or something.
Essentially, he made his living as a lobbyist for a series of firms. He'd wine and dine local politicians to make them agreeable to doing business with his GOP business cronies. He made a fortune doing that. But that kind of work is a kind of sausage-making. It's best kept buried in the incessant OC noise.
One time, the spotlight caught him providing perks for members of a water board. It was all very embarrassing. He even had to quit the company he worked for. But, generally speaking, Fuentes made his expensive sausages quietly, behind the scenes, connecting his pals with thick veins of public money.
Sorry about the mixed metaphors.
Despite his notorious piety, he plainly loved being wealthy and spent every spare hour at his beloved Balboa Bay Club, drinking, smoking cigars, ordering around the help, and doing who-knows-what with promising young Republican man-boys.
Fuentes was among the gang that flew down to La Paz and then Cabo, but, oddly, he did not join the cruise, owing to some alleged complaint or illness. He left a large icebox filled, he said, with decadent goodies for his boss, Caspers. Who knows what was in that box.
It is not entirely clear just who was on the boat as it sailed from Cabo. Some among this group bailed at ports along the way back to California.
Eventually, the yacht got pretty far up the Baja coast to Turtle Bay, where Harber decided to stop for fuel, provisions, etc. For some reason, at that point, the group seemed to be in a big hurry to get back to California. Their apparent route took them through some rough waters, which, later, puzzled investigators. Rough seas did develop there; the boat was forced to issue a Mayday. The Shooting Star and all hands were never heard from again. No bodies were every recovered, despite a massive search. Only small fragments of the boat were found.
The story, once filled out, is pretty odd and hinky. Many of you already know most of it. Caspers and Harber were then involved in shaking down contractors and developers—laying' down the old "pay to play," something that Harber had been caught (or nearly caught) doing years earlier as city manager of Cypress. Back then (1966), Harber had agreed to testify in exchange for immunity, but the case had to be abandoned when Harber's apparent co-conspirator, City Councilman Job Denni, died in a plane crash. Harber and Denni's scheme involved receipt of $2,000 a month from a developer—the same arrangement that, according to Jordan, Harber and Caspers offered to him eight years later. (See Harber and Caspers attempt to bribe a developer, but then they die instead.)
Back to 1974: One such "mark," Richard Jordan, decided to fight back, contacting the OC DA, Cecil Hicks, a Republican enemy of Caspers and his unsavory (mostly Democratic) crowd, including Harber and the infamous "Dick and Doc," i.e., land developer Dick O'Neil and mysterious political operator (and medical doctor) Louis Cella. Not long after the Shooting Star disaster, Dick and Doc's run as Big Political Donors ran afoul of the law—Cella, it turns out, was engaging in massive fraud at hospitals—which eventually landed Cella in prison. Within a few years, several other major OC politicians joined him there. The corruption was pretty thick.
Fuentes managed to sail through it all, unscathed, though he was widely reputed to have been "Caspers' bagman." When Caspers died, Tom hoped to be appointed as his replacement, but when that fell through he decided to quit politics and become a priest. His seminary time lasted about a year. Soon, he was back wining and dining rich people for the good ol' OC GOP. And he became rich.
Naturally, the Shooting Star disaster was a terrible tragedy for the 10 people on board and their families. This group included three young men from the Klein family of Utah. (One of the Klein boys was an administrative assistant for a member of the OC Board of Supes.) Clearly, this peculiar tragedy devastated the Klein family and left lots of unanswered questions. Too few in OC seemed interested in finding the answers.
There was a huge effort to recover survivors, find bodies, and so on, funded by Cella. For a while, it was run by—you guessed it—the dark souled Mr. Fuentes. These efforts produced virtually nothing. The tragedy was mostly blamed on bad weather and poor decisions. But many observers clearly saw the whole episode as very strange. Perhaps suspicious. But, it seemed, all the evidence had sunk to the bottom of the ocean. People moved on.
NOT LONG AGO, a Ms. S*****—a younger and internet-savvy member of the family that lost the Klein brothers in the tragedy—requested information concerning the "Sinking of the Shooting Star" from the FBI via the Freedom of Information Act. On November 14, 2017, she received the information with a cover page that explained needed "exemptions" (i.e., deletions), and the relevant FOIA "statute headings." The relevant part of that cover page is here:
The relevant sections (of FOIA) are here:
I received the documents from Ms. S, but they were in files that included pages that sometimes did not seem to match. I made an effort to put them in some kind of order. I fill in some of the blanks where I can. Here they are: pages 4, 5, and 6 are especially interesting.
|This page doesn't make much sense to me, given what follows.|
|Again, I think the redacted name is Frank Vessels, Jr.|
This was Caspers' second boating tragedy. Back in the mid-50s a boating
accident involving his yacht killed his then-wife. See 1954:
"Shooting Star" was Caspers' second boating tragedy. The first was also a doozy
|The "land developer" was Richard Jordan. His tale was finally reported in |
May of 1978 (See). The telephone call was likely from Caspers' assistant, Tom Fuentes,
who was (in 1978) reported to have spoken with Jordan, eventually informing him that Shirley
Grindle, an "honest government" advocate and planning commissioner, was asking questions
about Jordan's project. Fuentes then arranged for Jordan's meeting with Spendlove, Caspers' hand-picked
Spendlove died in a plane crash (taking his whole family, including four kids) in Utah in September
of 1975, a year after having been fired by Caspers' successor, Tom Riley.
|More of the Jordan story. The planning commissioner mentioned above ("her") is Shirley Grindle,|
widely known for her crusades for clean and open government. She was appointed by
OC Supervisor Ralph Clark in 1973 and she remained on the Commission until 1977. (See OAC.)
The meeting taken on May 6th or
7th is taken by developer Jordan. The amount of cash Harber and Caspers demanded from Jordan
—$2K a month—was the same amount demanded in the scheme Harber and Denni pursued back in 1966.
(See note above.)
The person declining the Mexican trip was the developer, Jordan.
WHO was interviewed on May 9th of 1978? Golly!
And who did the interviewing?
I have found a reference to an officer/agent ("special agent"?) of the FBI named Stanley J. Fullerton
(here; p. II-109). And so Fullerton represents the FBI in the interview. What's SA? I suspect it abbreviates
The OC DA who went after Cella was the celebrated Cecil Hicks.
I have no idea who this Marine Major is. I'll do some digging.
Curious investors: Camelot card club, Anaheim (c. 1977)
I have found news reports concerning the Camelot "card club" in Anaheim c. 1976-7. The owner, Joseph G. London,
ran afoul of city regulations. Some local officials seemed to feel that the club was detrimental to citizens' welfare. A "James Grover" (aka "Jimmy 'Bad Boy' Williams") of Las Vegas had ties to the club; evidently, he was an ex-convict with underworld connections, which worried Anaheim officials when London attempted to expand the business in the city. (The
Register's 9-12-77 article about Camelot is amazing.)
Someone overheard a conversation by ? in which "covering...tracks" was discussed—in connection
with the sinking of the Shooting Star. Relative to tracks-covering, this Marine, is (?) a local gambler in debt to this "card club."
The next bit of verbiage (on page 5) refers to participants of the conversation "wanting CASPERS 'taken out'"
|OCDAO — that's likely the OC District Attorney's Office.|
Could the redacted mystery man be Lyle Overby? Overby served as
a Supervisor's executive aide at the time, I believe. He was on the Shooting Star on
that fateful (not fatalistic) trip—but bailed at some point at Cabo San Lucas. (See My correspondence
with passenger Lyle Overby.)
Overby later became a successful OC lobbyist. (He is a Republican.)
LARRY SCHMITT was an OC Supervisor from 75-78 or so. He was a part of
Harber's "shadow government." Larry Clark, who wrote a fine piece about the
Shooting Star tragedy, told me that he was Schmitt's executive aide—and he was told
that his job was to "keep him [Larry] out of jail." Clark was the one who told me that Overby
was the passenger who bailed on the trip perhaps at Cabo.