Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.) was depicted yesterday at a House disciplinary hearing as a man who improperly diverted $29,000 from his campaign fund for such things as paying off overdue bank loans and financing jaunts to California racetracks in the early 1970s.
Testimony before the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct also showed that Wilson was paying Lee Rogers, a millionaire California mail-order businessman, $1,000 a month in public funds at a time when Wilson was telling Rogers he had "buried" postal legislation affecting Rogers' business and when Rogers was making thousands of dollars in "loans" to the congressman.
It is against House rules to convert campaign funds to personal use. Wilson has denied the conversion and kickback charges, which the committee filed against him in December.
Rogers testified yesterday that there was "absolutely no connection" between his loans to Wilson and any postal bill.
While the hearing focused on a detailed explanation of the paper trail of funds from Wilson's campaign to personal accounts and his relationship with Rogers, former committee financial investigator Marvin Levy said he had also found $200,000 in cash deposits in Wilson's bank account from 1970 to 1978 that were unsupported by income.
Wilson's defense lawyer, Walter Bonner, objected to the reference to this mysterious pool of cash. "If there's something wrong with it, why isn't it in the statement of alleged violations?" he said to reporters during a break.
The charges against Wilson grew out of the committee's investigation of alleged South Korean government influence-buying in Congress. Wilson was reprimanded by the House in 1978 for making false statements about receiving cash from Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park.
Committee investigators apparently have been unable to trace the source of the unexplained cash deposits Levy referred to yesterday. Sources have told The Washington Post that Wilson said part of that $200,000 was racetrack winnings.
As part of the current charges, Wilson is accused of lying to the committee when he testified in April 1978 that the transfers from his campaign accounts were for the expenses of volunteer workers. He said then he had no other sources of income.
Frank Chlan, an accountant from the General Accounting Office, spent most of the morning giving the committee a step-by-step reconstruction of the bank records that showed Wilson moving money from the campaign to personal accounts. For example, he said, Wilson borrowed $10,000 from a California bank in mid-1970 and paid it back with interest of $283.35 after withdrawing $10,283.35 from his campaign accounts in March 1971.
Chlan also described documents that showed Wilson making transfers from his campaign to personal accounts in 1971 and 1972, shortly after he had written checks totaling almost $5,000 to cash at two California racetracks.
For instance, on Feb. 19 and 20, 1972, Wilson wrote three checks for $600 each to cash at the Los Angeles Turf Club at Santa Anita Racetrack. $6On Feb. 22, the Wilson Key Committee, a booster club, wrote the congressman a check for $1,500 which he deposited in his personal account in the office of the House sergeant at arms the next day.
During the afternoon session, committee counsel Steve Wisebram introduced a letter that Wilson wrote Rogers in September 1973, while Rogers was on his staff payroll. In it, Wilson says: "I consider myself personally responsible for stopping hearings from being scheduled on this [postal] bill. You may be certain that I will work with you to see it stays buried in the subcommittee."
Though Rogers acknowledged that his direct mail-order business made him vitally interested in postal legislation, he denied that he ever gave money to Wilson in return for influence on legislation.
Committee members were skeptical of Rogers' explanation of why he would lend Wilson $15,500 without any written loan agreement, any interest charge, or any date for repayment. Rogers said he has never been repaid by the congressman and added he doubted he would ever lend Wilson money again.
In answer to a question from Rep. Wyche Fowler (D-Ga.), Rogers said the congressional license plates on his car were probably the only sign people would have had that he was on a congressional staff. He said he worked for Wilson out of his own office in California as a consultant on legislation and in arranging meetings with local businessmen.
Rep. Richard Cheney (R-Wyo.) said he could not understand why a millionaire would take a $1,000-a-month job.Rogers said that, at least in part, he wanted the status of being a congressional staff member.
The hearing continues today. If the committee finds Wilson violated House rules, it can recommend that he be reprimanded, censured or expelled. The full House then would vote on any punishment.