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— In days gone by, Herbert George Klein was one of the most influential men in America. Starting in 1940 as a humble copyboy at the Copley-owned Alhambra Post-Advocate, Klein signed on early after World War II with young GOP congressman Dick Nixon and ultimately rose to become chief of White House communications. After Nixon's fall, PR man Klein worked briefly for a billboard company, then was hired by Helen Copley to return to his old spiritual home at the Union-Tribune, where he had been editor during Nixon's years in the political wilderness between 1960 and 1968. Klein, a sports nut, was friend and mentor to athletes like Jack Kemp, the Chargers veteran whom he helped elect to Congress. He once wrote Nixon, then vice president, that he should set up a photo op with UCLA track star Rafer Johnson: "He is a very fine young colored lad who, you will recall, won fame by beating the Russians in the decathlon. I think this could be arranged very easily and again would make an interesting picture."

Among Klein's self-proclaimed achievements over the past decade were the U-T's take-no-prisoners campaigns on behalf of the controversial ticket guarantee for the Chargers and the new downtown baseball stadium for the Padres. In May 1995, Klein testified before the council on the Chargers deal: "In our own newspaper we've enthusiastically supported this project. I was here when we first built the stadium, when we brought the Chargers here. The amount we're really [going to] vote on today is a small part of what you get from just one Super Bowl. To be a world-class city you need to have world-class sports, you need to have a world-class arena, and this is a major step in that time at a very key point." In 2000, calls Klein made to city councilmembers on behalf of Padres owner John Moores brought him a letter from city clerk Chuck Abdelnour suggesting that the newspaper exec might have to register with the city as a lobbyist.

But those glory days are over. Last Friday, April 1, Klein, a Fairbanks Country Club resident who retired as editor in chief of the Copley newspaper chain in June 2003, turned 87. The celebration was overshadowed by his testimony the previous Tuesday in the preliminary hearing of two female caregivers and another woman who prosecutors allege took financial advantage of Klein and his wife of 63 years, Marge, a wheelchair-bound stroke victim.

According to charges filed by the district attorney's office in November, Mary Alice Talton, 49, and Margaret Lynette Baker, 45, conspired to defraud the Kleins; Talton, hired to assist Marge, allegedly stole checks from the couple and in one instance forged a check to SDG&E and gave it to her neighbor, Baker, to pay an overdue utility bill. Gwendolyn Coleman, 28, another caregiver for the Kleins, is accused of using Mrs. Klein's ATM card to illegally withdraw cash from the couple's bank account. "Mr. Klein did not give Coleman permission to use his Visa card for ATM cash transactions," according to a statement by Connie Johnson, an elder-abuse investigator with the district attorney's office. "However, [he] admitted he has given her permission to use the card on several occasions to purchase groceries." The Johnson declaration said the "known loss" attributable to Coleman was about $4000, but that, between 2000 and 2004, "in excess of" $50,000 was believed to have disappeared from the account. The allegation says both Baker and Coleman have prior felony records. All three defendants, who were bound over for trial, have pleaded not guilty.

Political sweat and equity It's spring, and the thoughts of local politicos are turning to fund-raisers. Topping this month's list is a Padres-themed bash by D.A. Bonnie Dumanis with proceeds going to her reelection bid. ... On May 12, California List, a political-action committee benefiting pro-choice Democratic women candidates for state offices, is throwing a dinner featuring former state senator Dede Alpert. "We invite you to sponsor this celebration by joining the Host Committee with a commitment to contribute $500, $1000, $2500, $5000 or $10,000," says an e-mail sent out by the group. ... On April 11, liberal San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who kicked off the gay-marriage craze, rolls into town for a $500 private reception at a posh residence near Bankers Hill. Following that, the party is open to all comers for $100.

Moonlighting According to a recently filed financial-disclosure report for 2004, the wife of indicted San Diego city councilman Michael Zucchet has been working for the Gemini Group, the political-consulting firm that has close ties to recently departed mayoral chief of staff John Kern. Teresa Zucchet reportedly earned between $10,000 and $100,000 at Gemini, run by Kern's longtime friend and professional associate Jennifer Tierney. The company has handled the campaigns of Mayor Dick Murphyand D.A. Bonnie Dumanis, both allied with Kern. Teresa Zucchet also reportedly earned between $10,000 and $100,000 as a counselor for the Poway Unified School District and as an adjunct instructor at the University of San Diego.

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