By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
In 1981, Alatorre's then-girlfriend, Angelina, introduced Lozano to her sister, Belinda Ramos Nykoluck, and the two began an affair. For seven years, they saw each other on an almost daily basis, according to a sworn declaration filed by Lozano in connection with the case. The relationship helped Lozano and Alatorre remain friendly even after Alatorre split with Roybal in 1982 over the election of Gloria Molina to the state Assembly, the first shot in the long-running Eastside feud. After Nykoluck bore Lozano's child in 1988, the two pols were, in a sense, family.
At the time, few in the Latino political community knew about the child - the birth certificate lists the father as "unknown" - nor, apparently, did Lozano's wife and five children. But in 1992, the year his relationship with Nykoluck ended, Lozano's paternity became an issue in a campaign that pitted him against Alatorre. In that year, Congressman Roybal announced his retirement and endorsed Lozano as his successor. Alatorre and his factional allies quickly lined up behind school-board member Leticia Quezada. Then, two weeks into the campaign, Lozano abruptly withdrew from the race, saying at a hastily arranged press conference that at nearly 59 he was too old to begin a congressional career and wanted to "spend more time with his family." At the time it was rumored that Lozano had been strong-armed out of the campaign with threats that his paternity of Alatorre's niece would be exposed. A source close to Lozano acknowledged that the fact that Alatorre knew about the child was a consideration in Lozano's decision to withdraw. "We knew it would come out in the campaign," the source said.
During Belinda Nykoluck's long illness, her sister, Angelina Alatorre, took an increasingly active role in looking after the child. Childless herself, Angelina became, said one longtime friend, "like a mother figure" to her. Three days before Nykoluck died in January 1996, she nominated the Alatorres as guardians of her child, and full guardianship was granted five months later in the probate court. "They're crazy about that kid," said one former aide to the councilman. "Angie especially. This is the child she never had." The Alatorres moved from their Eastside condominium to a new house in Eagle Rock to make more room for the child and paid to send her to private school.
In his declaration, Lozano said that after the mother's death the Alatorres began blocking his visitation of the child, which had continued on a more or less regular, if informal, basis after the affair had ended. After turning down one request for visitation, Lozano said, Angelina Alatorre told him to "give the baby more time to get over [her mother's death] and she will come around to you." On another occasion, in October 1996, Lozano said, Mrs. Alatorre denied another request by telling him she was the guardian and "nothing could now be done and it was all completely legal."
Lozano was ready to take the issue to court when a friend intervened and suggested he make one more attempt to settle the matter personally. "I told Henry, 'Look, this could get very nasty and very expensive,'" the friend said. "'You and Richard go way back. Why don't you see if you can work this out?'" Thus a meeting was arranged at a local restaurant in January 1997, and according to the source, it began amicably enough. "Richard told Henry, 'Hey, you're right, you're the father. I know what you are going through. I went through the same thing with my first wife.'"
About 20 minutes into the meeting, when matters seemed on the way to some resolution, to Lozano's surprise, Mrs. Alatorre arrived at the restaurant, child in tow, and joined the two men in the booth. According to court records, Mrs. Alatorre was "openly hostile" toward him and shut down any talk about his visitation rights. Lozano and the councilman tried to carry on the discussion in Spanish, so the child would not understand. They were interrupted when, at Mrs. Alatorre's prompting, the child handed her father a letter crudely typed on the letterhead of Mrs. Alatorre's event-planning company, Eventfully Yours:
"Dear Mr. Henry Lozano or Lazania
"I don't want to see you ever again.
"plplPLEASE DON'T EVER BUG US AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
"P.S. STAY OUT OF MY LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Across the middle of the page, in large, looping script, the child had scrawled her name in red marker. Lozano was stunned. The meeting - and any chance at settling the matter out of court - was effectively over. A few months later, Lozano filed a petition with the probate court to vacate the Alatorres' guardianship and initiated a parallel action in family court to establish paternity and gain sole legal custody of the child.
Given the political baggage freighting the custody case, it was little surprise to City Hall watchers when Alatorre turned to a politically connected downtown attorney named Neil Papiano for legal muscle.
A profile of Papiano's firm in the Martindale-Hubbell legal directory doesn't list family law as an area of practice, and while a database search of news articles turned up a wide array of clients - Papiano has represented Liz Taylor, Michael Jackson and the jockey Willie Shoemaker, among others - no custody cases were listed. But the attorney, a longtime friend of the councilman's, has experience where it may count most in this case: defending Alatorre's reputation.