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— A La Jolla investor and businessman who once ran Honolulu's Polynesian Cultural Center for the Mormon church has been busted for his alleged participation in a giant Ponzi scheme, which prosecutors say cost its victims more than $74 million. Federal officials in Seattle charge that William Hughes Cravens, 59, was at the heart of a fraud that lured thousands of investors with promises of 120 percent returns. The money was actually funneled through bank accounts on the Pacific island of Samoa into the pockets of Cravens and others, according to a federal indictment handed up in April. The government says the alleged conspiracy was led by John Wayne Zidar of Gardnerville, Nevada, who rounded up investors through a website frequented by "tax-protesters, libertarians, constitutionalists, and members of the patriot movement," according to an account last year in the Seattle Times. When Zidar was arrested in April, his attorney told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that "Mr. Zidar is a constitutionalist; he believes in the Constitution of the United States. The federal government swooped down on him with 10 or 15 masked people. They shoved guns in their faces. It's the Waco and Ruby Ridge attitude. My client claims he is innocent of any wrongdoing. They took everything that my client has except his wife and two dogs." The lawyer also said that Zidar was head of the "Isaacson Society," which he described as a "faith-based Christian organization that believes government shouldn't be on the backs of the people. They don't believe they'll get any money out of Social Security and would like to make plans for their own financial survival." According to an October 2000 report by Radio New Zealand, Cravens said he had testified before a grand jury in Seattle but was not himself a suspect. He had been trying to establish the "Private International Development Bank" in Samoa before his arrest, according to the indictment, which added, "Investors were falsely led to believe that PIDB was a real bank, instead of a shell corporation with a bank account." Cravens, California-born but said to be half-Samoan, was once head of the Development Bank of American Samoa. California corporate records list him as president of the "World Cultural Centers Foundation," formed in July 1999, and the "World Cultural Center," incorporated two years earlier. According to a March 1991 account in the New York Times, Cravens was in charge of the Polynesian Cultural Center when the Internal Revenue Service sought to pull its tax-exempt status. The IRS argued that the center, owned and run by the Mormon church, was being run as a for-profit venture.

Judged liberal Rancho Santa Fe's Gerry Parsky, said to be a close buddy of President George W. Bush, is making unhappy campers out of some California conservatives. Parsky, a wealthy investment banker who helped then-mayor Susan Golding collect millions of dollars of corporate special-interest money for the 1996 GOP Convention here, has cut a deal to give virtual veto power over presidential judicial appointments to the state's two Democratic senators, according to a report in last week's Washington Times. "Let's recognize that no one will get the ideal candidate, and that means we are not going to get judges like Scalia out of California under the Parsky plan," North County Republican congressman Darrell Issa told the paper. Other Republicans are even more upset. "What is Parsky ideologically?" the paper quotes an unidentified Republican honcho as saying. "He doesn't care about ideology. But I know he is offended by pro-lifers. He told me directly he doesn't want to see the California Republican Party become a party that gives money to pro-life candidates and consultants." Under the plan, Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer will each appoint three members to four regional subcommittees of a bipartisan judicial advisory committee, the paper says. Parsky will name the other three. Four subcommittee votes will be required to send each judicial nominee on to Parsky for consideration. "It's unprecedented in American history," the state Republican official was quoted as saying. "Since when has a Republican given Democrats an equal voice in approving his judicial nominees?"

Contributor: Matt Potter

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