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By Jill Stewart
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At the hearing, once Bible got the particulars out of the way - a 300-room hotel, 30,000 square feet of gaming space, 1,100 slots and 34 gaming tables - the crusty chairman got down to business. "Let's talk about individuals in the application, Mr. Roski," he began. "You identified . . . quite a number of individuals that you've had either business or personal dealings with that have had some difficulties with the criminal justice system."
What, Bible went on, was Roski's relationship with a disbarred attorney and convicted felon named Kevin Kirwan. "Kirwan is a long-term friend of mine," Roski answered, "just a personal friend. He had been involved in the card-club business in the Southern California area and had, I guess, experienced some problems in his ownership and had been - I guess no longer associated with that, I guess is the best proper way to put it, with the card club."
The "problems in his ownership" Roski was having such a hard time describing involved a deal Kirwan put together in the early 1980s to give two Bell city officials secret ownership of 51 percent of the Bell Card Club in exchange for their vote approving the new, 64-table gambling hall, then the biggest in Southern California. In 1984, Kirwan pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud in connection with the scheme and went to prison along with a former mayor of Bell, Pete Werrlein Jr.
At the time, Roski and Kirwan were more than personal friends. Kirwan had his office in a Majestic-owned complex in Commerce that was the unofficial headquarters of a tight-knit Eastside political scene fueled by development deals and powered by longstanding connections to County Supervisor Pete Schabarum. Kirwan and Roski have remained close, going on bike tours in places as far off as Ireland and Pakistan. "The reason we enjoy each other's company," Kirwan told the Weekly, "is precisely because we are not involved in business."
The two men crossed that line in 1992, however, in pursuit of another fishy card-club deal. That year Roski received a call from his old friend Tim Carey, a longtime Schabarum consultant, asking would he be interested in backing an effort to build a card club in Oxnard. Roski knew Carey through political circles and had contributed to the Southern California Caucus, Carey's political action committee.
Roski brought Kirwan, his friend with experience in such deals, to his first meeting with Carey. Bible pressed for details on the deal, and Roski said he'd been asked to put up a building and serve as the club's landlord. In a recent interview, Roski says he found the property unappealing and never seriously considered the deal. "There is nothing wrong with card clubs in their proper location," he clarified. "We wouldn't mind owning the real estate and leasing it to somebody." To hear Roski tell it, he never even planned to get into the gambling business; it was simply smart management of some lackluster property.
Kirwan's version of events, however, differs slightly from his old friend's, and calls into question Roski's professed disinterest in gambling. Kirwan said Roski called him a week after their meeting to say he could not do the Oxnard card club because the Boomtown development was beginning to take shape, and due to state laws could not be involved in both deals. Kirwan says Roski encouraged him to sign on with Carey as a consultant, which he did.
Within weeks the whole deal unraveled when city officials learned they were negotiating with felons. Kirwan's past was no secret, but Carey had a hidden conviction of his own. In 1992, Carey plead guilty to three felony counts of lewd behavior with a minor - a friend's 12-year-old daughter.
Bible didn't blanch at Roski's willingness to explore card-club opportunities with a man previously convicted of fraud in connection with card-club operations - he was satisfied with Roski's vow never to engage in business with Kirwan, and voted to approve a license for Roski and Blue Diamond. But the chairman had a couple more questions before he was through. What about Robert King, Bible asked, and what about Jim Stafford?
The answers took Roski back to his early forays asa partner with his father in the rough-and-tumble world of Southern California real estate. King was the chairman of the Bank of Industry, where Roski also sat on the board; Stafford was the city's founder. Each was convicted on criminal charges stemming from their schemes in Industry.
It was here, in an isolated city where business is king, that Ed Roski and his father built the foundation of their real estate empire. And it was here that Roski was first accused of using his political connections to make millions of dollars off real estate deals financed in part by public funds.
Ed Roski Jr. joined the family business after returning home from a tour in Vietnam, where he served with the Marine Corps. At that time, Ed Roski Sr. had a successful industrial real estate brokerage firm in the City of Commerce. It was not long before Junior, as he became known, encouraged his father to diversify the business and get into development.