Democrat Jerry Brown, candidate for president of the United States, and Republican Susan Golding, candidate for mayor of San Diego, have at least two things in common. Both are faring exceptionally well in their current campaigns. Both also have close ties to Richard Silberman, who is quietly sitting out this year’s election season in a remote federal prison.
Both have also managed to involve themselves with a Japanese company closely linked to Silberman’s business interests. Now, as both Brown and Golding enter the final phase of their primary races, their respective relationships with Silberman, once California’s consummate political money-man and deal maker, may raise unwanted questions.
Just how closely Silberman is tied to the careers of both Brown and Golding is shown by FBI wiretap logs introduced into evidence during Silberman’s trial two years ago. According to the logs, the taps of multiple phone lines into the San Diego officers of Yuba Natural Resources, Silberman’s gold mining venture, picked up thousands of conversations during February, March, and April of 1989, a time when Silberman was married to Golding.
In addition to conversations with mobster Chris Petti, indicted along with Silberman in the money-laundering scam, the logs show calls from some of the state’s biggest Democrats, including Jerry Brown himself, who called Silberman several times to discuss unspecified business. “Jerry Brown asking for Dick — not in,” reads a log entry from March 24, 1989. “The governor trying to reach him, res [Bay Area phone number].”
The logs also reveal multiple calls from Jerry Zanelli, a Sacramento lobbyist closely linked to state legislative Democrats. Zanelli’s officers were raided in 1989 during the FBI’s investigation of legislative corruption. The Sacramento Bee reported at the time that Zanelli’s files were targeted because of his “particularly close connections” to then-Senator Joseph Montoya who was later convicted on bribery charges. The Feds were reportedly seeking records pertaining to “bills that Montoya had carried for interests represented by Zanelli or his partner, Hedy Govenar.” Montoya was later tried and convicted. No charges have ever been filed against Zanelli.
Reese said she has known Zanelli for years, but, she added, “It fascinates and surprises me that he mentioned my name to Dick Silberman and that the Hospice was mentioned. I lobbied to see licensing permission for the Hospice, that is no secret. But I don’t have a clue why he would say that Maureen and I are close friends or why he would be talking to Silberman about me at all. It doesn’t surprise me that Zanelli shows up on the wiretaps, though. He and Silberman go back many years.”
Zanelli’s ties to Silberman, Brown, and other California Democratic bigwigs in fact reach back to the 1970s, when Jerry Brown was governor and Zanelli was an aide to Roberti. Silberman himself held a series of powerful executive posts in Jerry Brown’s administration and was also Brown’s chief fundraiser during his failed 1976 bid for the presidency. In 1977 he was named Brown’s secretary of Business and Transportation, then director of Finance, and then, temporarily, chief-of-staff for the governor.
During this period, Silberman took on one of the biggest issues of his career; the fight to repeal California’s so-called “unitary tax” on foreign corporations. The tax was strongly opposed by Japanese and other foreign interests. One of Silberman’s biggest clients in this lobbying effort was a San Diego subsidiary of a Japanese Firm. Kyocera International, an offshoot of Japan’s Kyoto Ceramics, took the lead in opposing the levy, spending heavily to lobby against the tax over a ten-year period. Brown administration insiders say the company counted heavily on Silberman’s influence with the governor, but they deny Silberman received payment from Kyocera until after he left Brown’s staff.
Bill Everitt, a vice president with Kyocera in San Diego, confirms that Silberman was in his firm’s corner from “very early on” in the years Brown was governor. Notes Everitt, “We first got connected with Dick [Silberman] in the late ‘70s. He was a great guy, very supportive of us. And we got verbal commitments from Brown, too, that he would support our efforts to abolish the [unitary] tax because he felt it was unfair.”
Whether as a result of Silberman’s efforts or not, Brown, who originally favored the tax, announced a change of mind in 1977 after returning from a trip to Japan. Says lobbyist Zanelli, “If there’s one thing you can count on with Jerry Brown, it’s that he’ll come out on both sides of every issue. He was a hypocrite then and he is now. He was a friend of anyone who contributed to his campaign, and he was always close with the Japanese because they spent a lot of money lobbying.”
According to FBI wiretap summaries in the money-laundering case against Silberman, Zanelli discussed with Silberman the possibility of being hired by San Diego County. The logs report that during some of the conversations, a woman named “Susan,” presumed to be Golding, was repeatedly mentioned. Another February 1989 call between Silberman and Zanelli, according to the logs, involved a discussion of “an unknown female, her political clout, her large salary. Susan’s confirmed appointments were discussed.” During the same conversation, Silberman said he wanted Zanelli’s “help in getting an appointment with Willie,” presumably a reference to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
In a recent interview, Zanelli confirmed that the calls to and from Silberman had taken place and that the county had indeed retained him as a lobbyist, starting in 1989. When asked if his friendship with Silberman, and Silberman’s marriage to county supervisor Golding, influenced his getting that job, Zanelli replied, “Yes, I suspect it could have.”
County records show that, beginning in March 1989 --just two weeks after Zanelli and Silberman discussed a possible job with the county --Zanelli was hired by the board of supervisors. Zanelli’s first lobbying contract with the county, which ran through July of 1989, was for $25,000. A second agreement between Zanelli and the county, reached in March 1990, paid him $35,000, and a third, reached in June 1991, also paid him for $35,000.
The Taps: Verbatim transcripts from federal wiretap logs