continued Bustamante and his family, with strong ties to Mexico's then-invincible PRI, the country's ruling political party, had long owned Tijuana's cooking and heating gas-distribution monopoly and over the years diversified into everything from maquiladora plants to a giant airliner-repair facility they built at Rodriguez Field, the city's airport on Otay Mesa. Bustamante was also a friend of Richard Silberman. Until his 1991 criminal conviction and federal imprisonment, stemming from an FBI drug-money laundering sting, Democrat Silberman was one of the state's most powerful political operators. During the 1970s and early 1980s, his close business and fundraising ties to then-governor Jerry Brown and his father, ex-governor Edmund G. Brown, made him the man to see for those seeking influence in Sacramento.
Bustamante figured prominently in a March 1979 front-page exposé in the New York Times, in which it was alleged that Bustamante had made unreported contributions to the gubernatorial campaigns of Jerry Brown and extended Brown special hospitality when the governor traveled to Mexico. "Jerry goes down to Tijuana, he stays at Carlos's house. I was there," the paper quoted a close Brown family friend as saying. "You know how frugal he is. He doesn't like to pay for a hotel."
According to the Times story, Bustamante was said to be seeking help in a series of state decisions involving his business in Mexico, including an ocean-front power plant to be built with SDG&E. Gray Davis, who was then Brown's chief of staff and is now California governor, was quoted as saying there was not "the slightest connection" between the governor's actions and the interests of the Bustamantes.
After Brown left office in 1982, Silberman and Bustamante remained close, and Bustamante showed up on wiretap records of Silberman telephone conversations made during the FBI's money-laundering sting. In February 1989, according to the wiretap logs, Silberman said he "talked to Bustamante this weekend. Bustamante told R.S. about his deals, and in two weeks 'Inamuri' [a wealthy ceramics tycoon] is coming to town. Inamuri is pushing the idea of a twin-plant so he can bring his buddies in."
That same month, a caller identified as Bustamanate was recorded as saying, "I turn over the factory on the past day of the month. It's about $400,000 plus the contract." Later that day, the taps showed, Susan Golding, then a county supervisor married to Silberman, was to host a reception in honor of Tijuana businessmen.
Lubic says he doesn't know Silberman but has heard of him. "Didn't he get convicted of something? I've never met him. Carlos has never mentioned him. But I know from reading stories he got involved in something. He was married to the lady mayor, right? I think he went to prison, but I don't know what it was for. I guess he's out now."
Clark and Lubic announced their latest cable-TV deal with Bustamante in August 1999. They acquired InfoAmerica, a so-called "shell" company traded over-the-counter that, until Clark and Lubic came upon the scene, had been based in Fort Collins, Colorado, and engaged in an unrelated business. After purchasing the shell, Lubic says, he and Clark merged into it their holdings, namely, Country Cable, the 2000-subscriber Tehachapi cable-TV system. Bustamante contributed his Tijuana-based Cable California in exchange for stock in the venture, Lubic says.
"Dick Clark and I are very excited about the merger with our friend and business associate in Mexico, Carlos Bustamante," said Lubic in an InfoAmerica news release. "We believe this new venture will allow a rapid expansion of fiber-optical networks throughout Mexico and provide high-speed telecommunications of voice and video to businesses and residents of the country. The Mexican market represents a tremendous opportunity, and, along with a burgeoning Hispanic population in Southern California, we anticipate strong growth."
As part of the deal, the trio also picked up some new shareholders with interesting backgrounds. According to Lubic, a Los Angeles investor named Byron Lasky "brought the shell to me. I've known him 20 years. He was involved in the beginning, but he's no longer involved. He is a shareholder now, I think. He has restricted shares."
Over the years, Lasky has been associated with a number of controversial ventures, including a troubled Las Vegas casino and a federally subsidized housing project in Washington, D.C., called Skytowers, which was featured in a Washington Post report in October 1993 about the city's slum problem. "Skytowers? Is that in Washington D.C.? I've never been there," Lasky was quoted as saying. "We just put money into that project for the tax breaks we'd get." In September 1995, the Baltimore Sun reported that a Lasky-related subsidized housing project there was foreclosed on by the government and set for demolition because it was "virtually abandoned."
This October, an InfoAmerica stockholder by the name of Stewart Sytner filed suit in Florida state court alleging that he had sold $250,000 worth of the company's stock to a man who paid for it with a check that later bounced. "Said stock certificates were fully endorsed by the Plaintiff and could be sold by the Defendant on the public market unless enjoined by the Honorable Court from doing so. Defendant is a Dominican citizen who could sell the stock and flee the United States of America, leaving the plaintiff with no recourse," according to Sytner's court declaration.
Just by coincidence, Lubic says, he and Clark own a cable TV concession in the Dominican Republic.
According to an InfoAmerica news release dated October 31, the company believed "that the recent increase and heavy trading activities over the last few weeks is a direct result of the illegal selling of these stolen securities. The company and its counsel are assisting the Florida court in the shareholders' return of the 450,000 shares that have been illegally utilized in this type of fraud."
Lubic says that InfoAmerica stock lost significant value during the incident. "Those 450,000 shares went into the market, and our stock was going down like terrible, so I went and bought back through the corporation, I think probably 450,000 shares, which was good because I got them at a low price, and when the market goes up, we can sell those shares into the market and get cash back."