Jerry Eaves, Whose Grifting In Office Epitomized His Political Era, Dead At 81

Jerry Eaves, who was for more than two decades empowered to hold office by tens of thousands of voters who were less than fully aware of the depredations he involved himself in while he served in various roles as one of San Bernardino County’s quintessentially corrupt politicians, has died.
As a line employee at the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, Eaves became involved in the Steelworkers Union, an association he exploited when he decided to become involved in politics in blue collar Rialto when he was in his late thirties. With what was solid union and then Democratic Party backing, Eaves wormed his way into the local political establishment when corruption and patronage was de rigueur throughout local government. The connections he made and favors he provided to others within the administrative/law enforcement/judicial monolith that was San Bernardino County government assured that he never went to prison, even after his participation in multiple graft, payoff and bribery schemes was exposed and prosecuted, and his conviction ensued.
Born on May 17, 1939 in Miami, Arizona to Thomas and Gladys Carter Eaves originally from Marlow, Oklahoma, Gerald Eaves had just turned 16 when his family relocated to California in 1955, moving to Rialto. After he graduated from San Bernardino High School, the closest high school to the east side of Rialto, in 1957, Eaves attended San Bernardino Valley College, earning an associate of arts degree. In 1959 he began work as a laborer tending one of the blast furnaces at Kaiser Steel. Over the next quarter of a century he was promoted to positions with increasing responsibility, until 25 years later he had reached the level of general foreman when the plant was shuttered in 1984.
In 1977 he was elected to the Rialto City Council and was reelected two years later. In 1980, he was elected mayor. He remained in that position for four years, and in 1984 challenged Terry Goggin, then the 66th District assemblyman. With the heavy support of energy companies and police unions, who were opposed to legislation Goggin had written, sponsored and had seen passed into law, Eaves was able to beat the incumbent in the Democratic primary in that heavily Democratic district, which made him a shoo-in in the November 1984 General Election.
Eaves served in the Assembly for eight years. In that capacity he was a member of the Ways and Means, Rules, Transportation and other key committees. He was the author of legislation creating the state’s first telecommuting project, a procedure whereby people could “dial in” to work. He sponsored legislation targeting gang activity and drug use, among other bills favored by law enforcement officers. His Assembly Bill 419 allowed the establishment of joint agencies to redevelop Norton Air Force Base and George Air Force Base. He was responsible for legislation which authorized the admissibility of expert testimony relating to battered woman syndrome.
With his marriage to his first wife on the rocks in large measure because of his constant presence in Sacramento, Eaves in 1992 opted not to seek reelection to the Assembly in a last-ditch effort to salvage his marriage. Instead, he sought election as San Bernardino County Fifth District supervisor. Before filing to run for that post, he told the incumbent, Robert Hammock, with whom he had attended San Bernardino High School more than thirty years previously and who remarkably held the distinction of being one of few local officials who was more steeped in corruption than Eaves, that he intended to seek the supervisorial post. Hammock, a Republican who had held the Fifth District supervisorial post since 1976 largely on his ability to convert votes he made in favor of developmental projects in his previous capacity as a San Bernardino city councilman and then as supervisor into both campaign donations and bribes from the development community, recognized that the district’s overwhelming voter registration in favor of the Democrats left him at a disadvantage to Eaves, who could count upon substantial monetary support from state, national and international business interests for whom Eaves had done favors while in Sacramento as a legislator. Hammock elected to run for Congress that year, losing in that effort, which effectively ended his political career. Eaves cruised to an easy victory in the November 3, 1992 election.
In his first political incarnation as a Rialto city councilman and mayor, Eaves had engaged in the relatively minor exploitation of his parochial authority, involving himself in the petty corruption of such things as driving around Rialto in his mini-size pickup truck intoxicated without fear of arrest by the Rialto Police Department. Once installed in Sacramento, he gradually awakened to the degree to which he could personally cash in on his position of power.
His transition back to a position of local authority on the board of supervisors represented a significant shift in the dynamics of governance in San Bernardino County. Whereas previously, political money employed in San Bernardino County had pretty much originated with local business interests intent on currying favor with the county’s top ranking decision-makers in order to further their efforts to procure county contracts, franchises or project approval, members of the county board of supervisors after Eaves was elected to that panel found themselves the recipients of the largesse from individuals far afield from San Bernardino County. While influence peddling and graft were by no means unheard of in San Bernardino County prior to Eaves’ presence on the board of supervisors, he tapped into sources of money that were more distant from where the county’s politicians had previously gotten their campaign bread buttered.
As a Democrat, Eaves was somewhat out of step with the Republican majority board at that time, which featured Fourth District Supervisor Larry Walker, like Eaves a Democrat, along with Republican First District Supervisor Marsha Turoci, Republican Second District Supervisor Jon Mikels and Republican Third District Supervisor Barbara Cram Riordan. Despite Eaves’ shared Democratic affiliation with Walker, the two found themselves out of sync on certain basic issues of county governance. By instinct or as a consequence of action he saw Eaves engage in, Walker steered clear of him for the most part, avoiding making any lasting alliance with him. Eaves managed, however, to ingratiate himself with both Turoci and Mikels. Eaves did this in no small measure by putting the arm on political donors he had cultivated while he was in Sacramento and who yet were beholden to him for legislation he had carried or supported which benefited them to come across with money to assist Turoci and Mikels in their campaign efforts. When Turoci was defeated in 1996 in her effort to gain reelection as First District supervisor by another Republican, former Apple Valley Mayor Kathy Davis, Eaves adroitly moved in to form ties with Davis, providing her with access to many of the donors who had formerly invested in his career as an Assemblyman. Moreover, Eaves introduced lobbyists whom he had encountered in Sacramento to his board colleagues. Those lobbyists in turn sought out local business interests, who then made use of their lobbying services in influencing the members of the board to vote their way.
Two years after he was elected to the board of supervisors, Eaves was elevated by his colleagues to be chairman of the board of supervisors. He remained as chairman from 1994 to 1998.
Eaves was involved in an unknown number of depredations as supervisor. One entailed his sojourning with then-County Treasurer Tom O’Donnell to New York City, where the two represented themselves as San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department detectives when they discussed with officers at the Bank of New York trading on the international currency market. It is unclear whether O’Donnell and Eaves had embezzled county funds to make those currency purchases or investments in other financial instruments. Eaves’ connections with the sheriff’s department, in particular then-Sheriff Gary Penrod, hampered an investigation into the matter that might have gotten to the bottom of that scandal.
Another element of the way Eaves operated was to blend his authority as an elected official with the authority of the county’s appointed or hired administrators or managers to stampede the rest of the board or the county governmental structure into action that proved lucrative for himself or his cronies. In this way, Eaves utilized his relationship with one-time San Bernardino County Chief Administrative Officer Harry Mays and Mays’ protégé, James Hlawek, who succeeded Mays as the chief county administrative officer, to approve contracts and enter into arrangements that provided Mays and other business entities with contracts worth tens of millions of dollars and kickbacks to himself and Hlawek.
One example of this was the huge profit turned by SHL Associates, Ltd., which combined the first initials of the first names – Scott, Harry and Lance – of its three principals, Scott Beard, Harry Mays and Lance Goodwin, in its company name. In 1998, both Mays and Hlawek were indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery charges that related to their acceptance of cash in return for arranging lucrative county contracts for several entities. Ultimately, Hlawek began cooperating with the FBI, telling agents that Mays provided him with a briefcase stuffed with $60,000 in cash during a meeting he had with Mays, Eaves and Beard, as a payoff for securing a $26 million 15-year county lease for a recently vacated K-Mart building in Rialto owned by SHL. That building lease was approved in a controversial 3-2 vote on June 23, 1997, with then-supervisors Eaves, Mikels and Davis prevailing. The building was converted for use by the county’s behavioral services department. The deal was promoted by Hlawek, who was then the county’s chief administrative officer. In 1994, Mays had been instrumental in convincing the board of supervisors to promote Hlawek as his successor when he departed as the county’s top administrator. Eaves was the recipient of scores of thousands of dollars of political donations from Beard. Beard and Goodwin narrowly avoided being indicted by both county and federal prosecutors during the scandal. Eaves was less fortunate, and was charged or indicted on both state and federal counts.
In his statements to the FBI, Hlawek revealed a multitude of activities that involved outright bribery or graft. One of those was the county’s awarding of a landfill management contract to Norcal Waste Systems, Inc, which beginning in 1989 had been engaged in a contract with the county relating to trash and refuse handling at the county’s landfills. Kenneth James Walsh, a vice-president of Norcal, in 1994 began negotiations with the county relating to Norcal assuming control over the county’s landfills, representing an up-rating of the company’s contract from roughly $18 million to more than $40 million.
In September 1994, shortly after Mays had retired and was succeeded by Hlawek, Mays entered into a consulting agreement with Norcal to assist Norcal in obtaining county approval of the landfill management contract. Mays’ services for Norcal included bribing Hlawek to ensure Norcal obtained the landfill management contract. In October 1994, Walsh set up Queue Corporation as a conduit for bribes. Mays transferred funds from from Norcal into Queue and another Walsh company, and the illicit payments to Hlawek came from those companies. Thereafter, Mays and Hlawek arranged for further personal financial gain from the new Norcal contract. Mays negotiated a more lucrative consulting agreement with Norcal in January 2005. The revised contract provided that Mays and his company, Bio-Reclamation Technologies, Inc., were to receive a $1 million fee when the county approved the Norcal contract, plus additional payments if Norcal’s revenue increased through the issuance of bonds to finance landfill closures. Mays agreed to split Bio-Reclamation Technologies’ fees 60 percent to 40 percent with Walsh. Hlawek’s share of the payoffs was quantified by prosecutors as $227,000.
During 1995, Hlawek used his authority and influence as county administrative officer and chairperson of the county’s negotiating committee to obtain county approval of the Norcal contract. Among other things, Hlawek convinced the county board of supervisors to award the contract without competitive bidding. The county board of supervisors, led by Eaves, approved the Norcal contract on September 12, 1995.
From 1995 to 2000, the County paid Norcal more than $200 million. During the same period, Norcal paid $4.2 million to Mays and Bio-Reclamation Technologies under their consulting agreement and Bio-Reclamation Technologies, in turn, paid more than $1.1 million to Queue and Walsh’s other company. Hlawek intimated that bribes had been paid to Eaves, but was not able to quantify those.
Hlawek provided further information on another set of circumstances that led to the 2001 indictment of Eaves and others on federal charges. In that matter, Orange County-based billboard mogul, W. Shepardson “Shep” McCook, paid Hlawek $35,000 to induce him to alter a lease for “surplus” county property near Interstates 215 and 10 where in 1997, McCook’s Company, Oakridge Corporation, erected a series of billboards in Colton. Oakridge netted $4.3 million in that deal. Ultimately, investigators determined, Eaves, then-Colton Mayor Karl Gaytan and Colton councilmembers Don Sanders, Abe Beltran and James Grimsby had received money provided by McCook in exchange for Oakridge getting clearance to proceed with placing billboards along the freeway. Though Gaytan, Sanders, and Grimsby were removed from office as a consequence of the indictments which came after Beltran had been voted out of office, and all four Colton officials were ultimately convicted on felony bribery counts, the political corruption cases against Eaves bogged down when both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office pursued criminal charges against him. Federal Judge Manuel Real ultimately dismissed the federal case against Eaves on the basis of his ruling that pressing dual federal and state charges against him growing out of the same offenses constituted double jeopardy. That left the case against Eaves based on the state charges intact.
Eaves, however, had an ally in then-Sheriff Gary Penrod, who detailed his department’s anti-corruption task force to look into charges that the county prosecutor’s office, then headed by District Attorney Dennis Stout, had leaked information relating to his office’s investigation of Eaves for political purposes. That task force outfitted Eaves’ opponent in the 2000 election for Fifth District Supervisor, Rialto Councilman Ed Scott, with a recording device which he used to capture utterances from Stout, then-Assistant District Attorney Dan Lough and the district attorney’s office’s head of investigations, Barry Bruins, as they responded to Scott’s inquiries with regard to progress in the investigation. The contents of those recordings were then leaked to Bob Page, who at that time was a reporter with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Page wrote and the Bulletin published articles relating to Scott’s conversations with Stout, Lough and Bruins. Eaves’ lawyers subsequently pushed for continuance after continuance in the case against him, succeeding in postponing a trial on the matter until after the 2002 election, during which Stout, damaged by the reports of his office having engaged in a “political” prosecution of Eaves, was defeated by one of his prosecutors running against him, Mike Ramos. Ramos, his career having advanced as a consequence of the faux pas Stout had committed in during the prosecution of Eaves, entered into plea negotiations with Eaves’ lawyers rather than insisting on taking the matter before a jury. Influenced in some measure as well by his alliance with Sheriff Penrod, Ramos was prevailed upon to go easy on Eaves, who in his capacities as assemblyman and supervisor had engaged in political horsetrading and provided favors to untold numbers of public officials and members of the county establishment. Ultimately, in exchange for agreeing in January 2004 to leave office, pay a $10,000 fine and submit to three years probation, Eaves avoided a prison term.
As a footnote, Scott’s environmental clean-up company was provided with county contracts, and he remains a city councilman in Rialto. Page left the newspaper business shortly after his articles on Scott, Stout, Lough and Bruins appeared, and he was hired as the chief of staff to Supervisor Mikels, subsequently moving into the county administrator’s office after Mikels lost the 2002 election. Consistently promoted up the county hierarchy ever since, Page is now serving as San Bernardino County’s registrar of voters, at an annual salary of $158,884.41, further pay of $34,179.20, and benefits of $100,209.40, for a total annual compensation of $293,273.01.
During his tenure as supervisor, Eaves was the co-chair of the Inland Valley Development Agency, which was charged with the development of the area around Norton Air Force Base after it was shuttered by the Department of Defense in 1994, as well as a member of the board of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, dedicated to the civilian use conversion of the Air Force Base. He was the chairman of the Agua Mansa Industrial Growth Association; president of the California State Association of Counties; and chairman of the county’s transportation agency, known as San Bernardino Associated Governments. He hosted a cable television program, County News and Views. He was chairman of the Inland Empire Legislative Caucus. He was instrumental in having the current county hospital, known as the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, built in Colton.
While he was holding elective office, Eaves remained involved as a Little League coach in Rialto, and was director and president of the Little League there. He received the P.T.A. Honorary Service Award for fifteen years of dedicated service to young people and was named Kiwanian of the Year by the East Rialto Kiwanis Club and distinguished citizen of the year by the Boy Scouts of America. He established the Jerry and Jenna Eaves Foundation for the purpose of assisting underprivileged children, nonprofit child care centers and other community organizations.
John Longville, who as a Rialto city councilman served on that panel when Eaves was mayor and was once considered one of Eaves’ primary political allies and eventually succeeded Eaves as mayor after he went on to the Assembly, told the Sentinel, “I first met Jerry when I began attending Rialto City Council meetings in the late 1970s. I was appointed to the city’s airport commission and I got to know him as one of the people involved in city government. Jerry was more of a conservative Democrat when I first encountered him, and he became less conservative as time went on. He was an ally of mine when I first ran for the council. He supported me when I successfully worked to establish Martin Luther King Day as a holiday in Rialto, which the city did before it became a state and federal holiday. I assisted him when he ran for the Assembly in 1984. I was unsuccessful in my first run for mayor that same year, so I was off the council from 1984 to 1986, but I was elected mayor the following year. I worked for him while he was in the Assembly. I think there was a substantial shift in his political philosophy after he became an assemblyman. He grew much more progressive. I think that was a combination of his time in Sacramento and his own maturation. Jerry was part of the Democratic caucus, and was among people who were in power. He learned a lot in that position. Jerry was a smart guy who would pick up on things very quickly. He was a natural politician.”
After his first marriage ended, Eaves married Jena Rae Wilson, the daughter of Oswen and Allene Wilson. They were married on May 20, 1994, which precipitated Eaves’ move from Rialto to San Bernardino. After he left office, Eaves and Jena moved to Palm Desert.
Earlier this month, Eaves was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma during an examination at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. Death claimed him on Monday, October 26 while he was in residence at his Palm Desert home.
He is survived by Jena and a daughter, Laura Scroggin; a brother, Darrell; a sister, Betty Mulligan; and thirteen grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren he had in combination with Jena. Eaves was preceded in death by his son, Michael, and his daughter, Cheryl.
-Mark Gutglueck

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