Issa Dogged By New Reports Of Past Legal Troubles
Vista Congressman Leads Davis Recall Effort
POSTED: 11:55 a.m. PDT June 25, 2003SAN DIEGO -- Darrell Issa, the San Diego congressman
leading the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis, was prosecuted in
1980 for allegedly faking the theft of his Mercedes and selling the
vehicle to a car dealer, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Issa issued a statement Wednesday blaming his brother, a
convicted car thief, for the scheme, which was detailed in
documents on file in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
"Clearly, it was illogical to think that I would, in effect,
steal my own car and sell it using my own name in an adjoining
county," said Issa, a Republican who has pumped $1 million into
the campaign to recall Davis and has declared he will run for
governor if the recall qualifies for the ballot this year.
Issa, 49, had faced allegations of involvement in two other car
thefts during past political campaigns, but the San Jose case
hadn't become public knowledge until the San Francisco Chronicle
reported about it on Wednesday.
He was elected to Congress in 2000 from Vista, Calif., after losing a campaign for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1998. In those campaigns, Issa denied allegations of car theft and sought to blame political opponents, including Sen. Barbara Boxer,
D-Calif., for planting news stories about the allegations to discredit him.
Earlier this month, Issa spoke with NBC 7/39 reporter Steve Walker about a report in the Los Angeles Times that he had been a run-in with the law as a teenager. Court records show that in 1972, when Issa was 19, he and his brother, William, were indicted on a charge of
felony grand theft for allegedly stealing a Maserati sports car
from a car dealership in Cleveland, court records show. The case was dropped.
"My brother and I were stopped and arrested. The charges were, in fact, reviewed and dropped," Issa told Walker. " There isn't a story there. And if there is, it's a story of an 18-year-old and his 20-year-old brother."
The Santa Clara case happened in February, 1980, when Issa was a 27-year-old U.S. Army officer, and his brother was 29, according to the Chronicle. The brothers were arrested on a felony auto-theft charge. According to prosecutors said, William Issa sold his brother's car to Smythe European Motors in San Jose for $13,000 cash and three $1,000 traveler's checks. Hours
later, Darrell Issa reported the car stolen from the Monterey airport, near his Army post at Fort Ord.
Issa and his brother pleaded not guilty. A judge ordered them to
stand trial on felony charges, saying he had a "strong suspicion"
that both men were involved in the crime, according to the records.
But in August 1980, a prosecutor dismissed the case for lack of
evidence. The men later were charged with misdemeanors, but that
case was not pursued, said retired police detective Richard
Christiansen, lead investigator in the case.
"William has inflicted pain and sorrow upon our family since he
was a teenager. Obviously, his past continues to inflict pain
today," said Issa, who became a multimillionaire manufacturer of
electronic auto alarms, including the popular "Viper" anti-theft
device. "When people ask me why I got into the car alarm business,
I tell them the truth. It was because my brother was a car thief."
Issa told the Chronicle that he believed police had targeted him
because "they always thought I was not coming clean enough
essentially to (help them) prosecute my brother."
Issa said he never tried to conceal his San Jose arrest. He said
his campaign managers had advised him not to discuss it unless he
was asked about it.
In a third incident, a retired Army sergeant claimed in 1971
that Issa, then an enlisted man, had stolen a Dodge sedan from an
Army post near Pittsburgh. The allegation was published in a 1998
story in the San Francisco Examiner. It quoted the retired sergeant
as saying he had recovered the car after confronting Issa and
threatening him. Issa denied the allegation, calling it reckless,
the newspaper reported. No charges were filed.
When his opponent in the 2000 campaign for Congress raised the
same auto-theft allegations, Issa denounced them as lies, according
to news accounts.
Issa, who was re-elected to Congress last year, founded Rescue
California, a pro-recall organization, and has donated $1 million
of his own money through Greene Properties, a real estate firm he
owns with his wife.
The funds pay for a statewide network of professionals who aim
to gather the needed 900,000 valid signatures to put the recall on
the ballot. Campaign backers have collected 376,008 signatures as
of June 16, the secretary of state reported Tuesday.
"My brother showed me one path a person could take in life, and
I have clearly taken a different one. The Issa record the past
quarter of a century has been one of hard work, achievement,
providing opportunity for others and serving my constituency in the
U.S. Congress," Issa's statement said. "I ask to be evaluated on
UPDATED: 12:16 p.m. PDT June 25, 2003
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