Ex-aide: Brothers offered cash for help with project
Mike Cruz, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/07/2011 10:01:22 PM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO – After many months of working closely with Bob Page, then chief of staff for 5th District Supervisor Josie Gonzales, a pair of Los Angeles-area businessmen turned up the heat in October 2007 when they allegedly offered Page cash and other gifts for his help on their three-phase Bloomington commercial development.
Arshak Kouladjian, and his brother Vartan Kouladjian, according to court testimony, quickly and quietly made it known to Page they wanted his help on other ways to make money in San Bernardino County.
That’s been the thrust in recent days in a trial of alleged bribery, in which prosecutors have shed light on what they say were the developers’ relentless efforts to get their project OK’d.
Much of their evidence comes from Page himself, who after feeling the pressure of the brothers’ alleged attempts at bribery, agreed to record the brothers’ interactions.
The Kouladjians are on trial before Judge Michael Smith, facing three felony counts that allege they bribed and attempted to bribe Page on three separate occasions in late 2007 and early 2008.
During a meeting at Black Angus in San Bernardino, Vartan Kouladjian raised the issue of working together with Page, according to testimony.
The brothers had no idea Page was wearing a wire.
On the other end, investigators from the District Attorney’s Office listened closely to the conversation.
Amid the discussion, the din of the busy restaurant and the Kouladjians’ heavy accents, investigators got a sense of where prosecutors say the brothers were headed.
In court last week, prosecutors went through recordings with Page on the stand, occasionally stopping the audio to go over what was being said.
Page tried to clarify what he heard.
“Whatever we (inaudible) here, stays here,” Vartan Kouladjian allegedly warned Page.
If anyone outside the table learned of the discussion, Vartan Kouladjian said he “would disavow knowing me or having that conversation,” Page said last week from the witness stand in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Defense lawyers Mark Geragos and Philip Cohen are expected to begin questioning Page this week. While witnesses have said Page gave no special favors to the Kouladjians, he spent more time on their Bloomington development than any other, according to court testimony.
For many months, Page had been fielding a near-daily barrage of phone calls and emails for the Kouladjians’s development in the 12000 block of Slover Avenue. The Kouladjians had donated heavily to Gonzales campaign: $35,000 over a three-year period, authorities said.
And as the Slover Avenue development hit roadblock after roadblock toward getting its occupancy permit, the brothers sought help from the 5th District supervisor’s office, Page said.
As the chief of staff, Page stepped up to resolve the delays between the Kouladjians, their consultant and the county, according to prosecutors.
But the relationship took a strange turn during a meeting at the Black Angus restaurant in San Bernardino on Oct. 17, 2007, when Arshak Kouladjian first tried to pass a half-inch thick white business envelope to Page – a gift from his brother, he said.
But the appreciation allegedly didn’t stop at just cash.
The Kouladjians offered Page a deal on a car and use of their contractor to help with his new home, according to testimony.
Page alerted authorities, and suddenly he was keeping a record of every update, recording conversations with a digital recorder and wearing a wire as investigators stayed close by in a van.
Page didn’t take the envelope.
Later – and now with investigators listening in – Page tried to let Arshak Kouladjian know that he still wanted to work with the brothers.
In essence, he was playing along.
Prosecutors played a phone call between the two.
“It’s a new kind of experience for me,” Page said. “I’m worried that I offended your brother.”
At a meeting Jan. 3, 2008, the Kouladjians discussed the Slover Avenue development again, but they also asked Page about other business opportunities, he said.
They wanted to know how to get the county’s business for surplus vehicles, and they wanted to know about commercial projects where work had been started but not completed, according to Page’s testimony.
After the meal, Page made a quick pit stop with investigators to put fresh batteries in the digital recorder, and then he met the Kouladjians at their offices of the Slover Avenue development. Arshak Kouladjian met Page as he pulled up.
After walking inside, the digital recorder in Page’s portfolio shut off and investigators had to rely solely on Page’s body wire.
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