About Bompensiero’s lawyers, Sheela said, “C.H. Augustine was a good lawyer, he’d been in the DA’s office shortly before I came there. He was a trial lawyer. Then they had a guy named Bill Burns. But that case was actually being controlled by Desimone, he was making the tactical decisions. It was Desimone’s job to see to it when a Mafia figure was on trial that there was no spilling over, nothing getting out that would embarrass the mob. That was my reading of it. Desimone seemed like a real nice guy. I’d never been able to go to the Turf Club, but when I got to the DA’s office, then all of the judges had Turf Club passes, the DA had Turf Club passes, the jury commissioner had Turf Club passes, and they were always available. I used to see Desimone at the Turf Club, he was very pleasant. I didn’t know until the Apalachin thing that he was that well connected.” (Desimone was arrested in 1957 at the meeting in Apalachin, New York, of 65 men, many associated with America’s crime syndicate. Others at the meeting included Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Joseph Magliocco, Gerardo Catena, Natale Evola, Michele Miranda, Carmine Lombardozzi, John Ormento, Joseph Riccobono, Paul Castellano, Alfred Rava, Santo Trafficante Jr., James Civello, James Colletti, Frank Zito, John Scalish, Joseph Ida, and Sam Giancana.)
March 18, the State Supreme Court in a six-to-one decision ruled that Bompensiero would stand trial and that he would do so in Judge Hewicker’s courtroom. Trial date was reset for Monday, April 18. Meanwhile, Desimone reached out to the United States Supreme Court. He asked Justice William O. Douglas to receive a writ in certioraris review (a writ from a higher court to a lower one requesting a transcript of the proceedings of a case for review) and to stay the trial until the writ request could be argued. The Supreme Court declined and on Tuesday morning, jury selection began. Augustine, not unwisely in a city where Sunday closing blue laws still applied, queried prospective jurors about attitudes toward liquor and association with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Prohibition Party.
By Wednesday, April 20, the jury was chosen. Jurors were Bernice Aved, Barbara Winter, Irene Vitalich, Mrs. Burl H. Pierce, Carl A. Bertele, Mildred M. Rolph, Warren E. Wilsie, Mary Jo Molina, Rudolph Fibiger, Gwen A. Yontz, Pearl L. Collins, and Elizabeth Shukraft. Alternate jurors were Virginia R. Wroe, Lee E. Singleton, and LeRoy B. Stewart.
The San Diego Union noted in its April 21 issue:
JUDGE MAY GET INTO JAM
- “Hewicker last night took home a jar of strawberry jam, a gift from a woman juror who liked his illustration on the difference of evidence. Hewicker had told prospective jurors in the Bompensiero trial that if a youngster was caught in the jam jar, it was direct evidence. If he was caught with jam on his face, the evidence was circumstantial. Attorneys questioning jurors apparently like the illustration too. They used it frequently during the selection and questioning of the panel. Hewicker said, ‘I’ll have it for breakfast.’ ”
Jack Levitt and Bart Sheela represented the state. Their goal was to show not only that Bompensiero received a bribe but that he was involved in a conspiracy to solicit and procure bribes. To accomplish this goal, the prosecution set out to demonstrate that bribes regularly had been solicited by both State Board of Equalization employees and by the so-called business opportunity brokers who had set themselves up in business to help applicants acquire licenses. In an opening statement Levitt noted that the prosecution planned to call 18 witnesses, among them Earl Jacobs, owner of the Lakeland Resort in Cuyamaca; Silver Spigot owner Jack Millspaugh; Tony M. Silva, co-owner of the El Toreador Motel in San Ysidro; Frank Cerda, owner of the Mission Inn in Oceanside.
Charles Cameron, a State Board of Equalization employee, testified for the prosecution that he often saw Bompensiero in the sbe office at 3621 Fifth Avenue. Bompensiero, said Cameron, was in and out of the office, talking to everyone there. Augustine, cross-examining Cameron, asked, “There’s nothing unusual in that, was there?” Cameron replied there was not. He admitted that Bompensiero owned several bars and had several licenses.
As the trial’s sixth day began, Tony M. Silva testified that in 1949 he went three times to the State Board of Equalization offices to apply for a liquor license. “They wouldn’t listen to me,” Silva told the jury. “They said they had too many applications ahead of mine.” Silva said that soon after his third unsuccessful attempt, he was visited by Al W. Bennett. A former San Diego city councilman (1929–1937) and vice-mayor, Bennett was a “business opportunity” broker. He had his offices at 3635 Fifth Avenue, several doors down from the sbe office. In 1954 Bennett, together with Charles E. Berry, sbe district liquor control administrator, had been tried and convicted on 17 counts of conspiracy and committing bribery in the issuance of liquor licenses. Silva said Bennett told him that a license would cost him $5000 and that he could immediately make a down payment of $1000 to get the process started. Silva said that he asked if he couldn’t get a license for less. Bennett told him he couldn’t. Silva went on to tell the jury that he eventually paid the $5000, in three installments, to Bennett. Payment made, Bennett then sent Silva down the street to the sbe offices to see Berry, who issued Silva’s liquor license.
Earl Jacobs followed Silva to the stand. Jacobs testified that Berry himself solicited and took his money. Berry asked Jacobs for $2500. Jacobs, at Berry’s instruction, slipped $1000 of the $2500 into Berry’s desk drawer. Jacobs, although he never paid the balance, eventually received a license.
One after another the prosecution solicited these tales. None of these stories, however, directly involved Bompensiero. They merely revealed the climate in which bribery flourished and how bribes were solicited and money procured. Bart Sheela was ready, then, with the prosecution’s last witness, Jacumba cafe owner Ernest Gillenberg. The cafe owner told his long sordid story. He had applied for and been refused a license. He then had been visited by a man who represented himself as raising funds for Bonelli’s campaign chest. This man said that $5000 would get Gillenberg a liquor license. Gillenberg demurred. Next, an sbe employee came knocking. The sbe employee said that any day, a gentleman named Frank Bompensiero would be calling on Gillenberg. Early in 1951, Bompensiero showed up and told Gillenberg that if he wanted a liquor license, he’d have to come across with $5000. Again, Gillenberg demurred. Finally, he changed his mind. Gillenberg telephoned Bompensiero and made arrangements to meet him April 3, 1951, at noon, in the lobby of the U.S. Grant.