Budget Lotto

Supervisor Alioto's potential conflict of interest

That explains District Attorney Arlo Smith's magic touch for extracting extra budget funds from the city kitty?

Consider his new success rate:
From 1990 to 1992, Smith made nominal requests for what's called “supplemental appropriations,” allocations above and beyond regularly budgeted monies. Some years he'd cadge an additional $7,000 for prosecutions. Some years, as much as $300,000.

Then in fiscal year 1993-94, Smith hit the jackpot, reaping $1.8 million in supplemental appropriations. He got lucky again this year, toting another $1.3 million back from City Hall.

While other city departments felt the sting of budget cuts imposed by the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, Smith was one of only three department heads to recoup every penny excised from his budget.

This fact didn't escape the attention of Harvey Rose, the board's penny-pinching budget analyst, who published reports critical of the D.A.'s 1993 and 1994 budget retrofits. “I had major disagreements with the D.A. on those supplementals,” Rose says.

There's nothing wrong with winning a budget battle. But some observers are attributing Smith's success in large part to Supervisor Angela Alioto. And they say her advocacy for the D.A.'s budget constitutes a conflict of interest: Smith's office is currently prosecuting Alioto's ex-boyfriend — Peter Rowland — on 26 counts of fraud and money laundering.

Alioto has denied any romantic involvement with Rowland, who goes to trial this week. Regardless, both Rowland and his lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Jeff Adachi, contend that Alioto has supported the D.A.'s budget run-up in hopes of staving off any investigation into her connections to the case.

Alioto has denied all allegations of wrong-doing and the D.A.'s Office says it has no evidence to support accusations against the supervisor and mayoral aspirant. Moreover, Assistant District Attorney Don Sanchez, Rowland's prosecutor, flatly denies any link between the Rowland investigation and the D.A.'s budget requests. “It's ridiculous,” Sanchez says. “There is absolutely no connection”

Alioto aide Jerry Windley is equally dismissive. “She has always supported funding for law enforcement in this city,” Windley says, speaking on behalf of the supervisor. “To try to connect her in this way at this stage of the case is ludicrous.”

But Smith's huge budget requests followed an August 1992 meeting between Alioto and Rowland's prosecutors in which the supervisor pleaded with and threatened D.A. staffers to leave her out of the investigation. Alioto's heated meeting with the D.A. staffers was recorded and transcribed by the D.A.'s Office and published by the Daily Journal in August 1994.

Alioto, who was board president and a member of the budget committee in 1993 and 1994, weighed in heavily on behalf of Smith's budget requests. This year, after she left the budget committee, she sponsored the latest $1.3 million appropriation.

Meanwhile, Rowland's prosecutors have turned a blind eye to Alioto's questionable intersections with the case: Three complainants have told SF Weekly and the Daily Journal that Alioto tried to dissuade them from bringing charges against Rowland. Rowland and the prosecution's key witness, Marc Provissiero, have told the two papers that Alioto encouraged them to leave the country before charges were brought. The Daily Journal also reported that Alioto secured a $200,000 loan with Rowland acting as an intermediary.

While it's true Alioto wasn't the determining factor in the D.A.'s success at the Board of Supervisors — maintaining adequate funding for the D.A. is a priority of many supervisors — she did wield considerable influence. Board members are loathe to oppose the board president, who makes committee assignments. And budget requests are rarely turned down by the full board once the budget committee has approved them.

In late September, Rowland attorney Adachi tried to make the supplemental budget allocations an issue during pretrial hearings in the Rowland case, as part of a strategy to win dismissal of charges based on prosecutorial misconduct.

Adachi went as far as to construct a posterboard chart documenting D.A. supplementals after the Rowland probe began. The judge rejected this argument before Adachi could present his visual aids.

After Alioto's extraordinary August 1992 meeting with prosecutors, the Rowland investigative team dropped the probe for eight months, until after the election. (The D.A.'s office insists it was because they had trouble winning the cooperation of a key witness.) The month after Alioto was seated as board president in 1993, Smith made his first of what would amount to $1.8 million in additional budget requests.

“They could have at least been subtle about this thing,” Adachi says.

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