Saturday, December 11, 2010

Richard T. Hanna: jumping the gun

Richard T. Hanna at the Miles Square Park groundbreaking. Image courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

Though Richard Thomas Hanna deserves credit for taking responsibility for his wrongdoing, it is ironic that this action may have left his reputation worse off than if he had fought the charges harder. Several politicians were implicated in the "Koreagate" scandal in the 1970s, but Hanna was the only one who was criminally convicted in the case.

Hanna was born in Kemmerer, Wyoming, in June of 1914. He eventually migrated to California, graduating from the Pasadena Junior College as well as the University of California with a bachelor's degree in law. He promptly began a private practice, though he served in the U.S. Navy Air Corps between 1942 and 1945. Beginning in 1956, he spent six years as a member of the California state assembly. In 1962, he bucked the trend in his traditionally conservative Orange County district by winning a seat in the House of Representatives after running as the Democratic nominee. Even more impressive, he held the seat in the next five elections. In March of 1974, however, Hanna announced that he would not seek re-election due to his wife's health. In November, Orange County decided to keep a Democrat in the House, electing Santa Ana city councilman Jerry M. Patterson over former Vietnam prisoner of war and GOP candidate David Rehmann.

The same month he announced he would resign for unrelated reasons, investigative journalist Jack Anderson described Hanna as "Capitol Hill's premier globe-trotter." Writing in the Washington Merry Go Round column and citing State Department cables, Anderson wrote that Hanna had been escorting South Korean businessman Tongsun Park on his quest to find oil deals. Anderson wrote that in January Hanna had been in Indonesia as a guest of the Pertamina Oil Company and flew to meet Park in Yemen. This column ultimately let Hanna off easy, describing him as a "likable liberal" and printing Hanna's insistence that he had promised capital investment in Yemen but had not made any business deals alongside Park, but only talked to officials at informal gatherings such as cocktail parties.

The same month, however, Anderson was a little tougher. He gave Hanna another nickname, "King of the Road," noting how he made three junketing trips in 1973 to the Soviet Union and Africa. Anderson accused Hanna of demanding red carpet treatment in Japan, including a military helicopter to fly him over Tokyo's persistent traffic jams. He said Hanna also escaped Egypt during the outbreak of war by taking a train to Alexandria and boarding a freighter to Greece. Altogether, Hanna had taken numerous trips to Asia, Europe, and South America, mostly on the taxpayers' expense.

It would be another two years before the Justice Department gathered enough evidence to attach criminal charges to Hanna's activities. In October of 1976, the Washington Post reported that the department was investigating the funneling of gifts and cash from the Korean government to U.S. congressmen, with over 20 past and current politicians under examination. The newspaper reported that President Park Chung Hee of South Korea was accused of personally guiding agents in the goal to create a legislative environment more favorable to that country, with Tongsun Park acting as the key lobbyist. Park said he made payments to Hanna and two other congressmen, former Democratic representatives Cornelius Gallagher of New Jersey and Edwin W. Edwards of Louisiana, then governor of that state. The Post said they'd also obtained copies of six checks, totaling $22,500, that Park had written to Hanna in 1973 and 1974. One source said Park gave Hanna about $4,000 to be used on his house.

Hanna admitted to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct that he had been involved as a silent partner in Park's import-export work, earning $60,000 to $70,000 over the course of three years. Hanna said he had never taken a political contribution from Park, and that Park had never tried to influence congressional legislation. However, he did say that he grew uncomfortable with the relationship due to the possibility of a conflict of interest, especially as Park pressed for introductions to other legislators. "I guess I was his original friend on Capitol Hill," said Hanna. "He often told me I was his oldest, dearest, closest, most valuable friend. Then he turned around and kicked me."

By this time, Hanna's travel was continuing on a smaller scale. The Orange County board of supervisors had considered him as a potential Washington lobbyist for local issues, but he withdrew his name from consideration in December of 1975. From there, he moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas and was living there in seclusion when a probe of Park's business named 27 current and former representatives and senators in September of 1977.

As a foreign national, Park was prohibited from making campaign contributions and had also failed to register as a foreign agent. Two former directors of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, named as unindicted co-conspirators, said U.S. rice dealers paid substantial amounts to Park as an agent for rice sales to Korea. Kim Hyung-Wook, one of the former directors, said Hanna and Park visited the Korean prime minister to discuss rice commissions and that Park had run lobbying efforts out of a club he owned in Washington, D.C. since 1966. Kim said Hanna wanted rice to be bought in California, and that it would be easiest to do so with Park as an agent since he could take care of payments to other congressmen to favor Korean causes. It was a rather lucrative business, since rice could be bought at subsidized prices and sold for four times the world average in Korea. Out of $9 million in rice subsidies, Park funneled $850,000 to congressmen. The misconduct led to 36 criminal corruption charges against Park, and Hanna was named as an unindicted co-conspirator for his advisory role to Park in the alleged scheme to determine which congressmen could be bought and at what price.

In October of 1977, Hanna was brought up on criminal charges of his own. An indictment charged him with three counts of bribery, one count of failing to register as a foreign agent, 35 counts of mail fraud, and one count of conspiracy. Park, as well as the two former Korean CIA directors, were named as unindicted co-conspirators in the indictment. The charges accused Hanna of getting a cut of commissions paid to Park by U.S. companies in exchange for influencing decisions related to Korea. Park admitted to giving Hanna $262,000 for his role in the scandal.

In March of 1978, most of the laundry list of charges was dismissed after Hanna pleaded guilty to the single conspiracy count, three days before he was scheduled to go to trial. "I apologize as a lawyer, as a person who held public office," he said at his sentencing. "I hope in some way to atone for what I have done, whatever years I have left." However, Hanna also thought Congress as a whole had gotten a "bad rap" from the affair and characterized the payments as campaign contributions rather than bribes. In April, Hanna was sentenced to serve six to 30 months in prison; he began the sentence the next month at the minimum security prison at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

Though Hanna was closer to the scandal than the other congressmen, he may still have had better luck if he had taken the case before a jury. Three other California Democrats were reprimanded by the House: Edward R. Roybal, Charles H. Wilson, and John J. McFall. Another former Democratic representative, Otto Passman of Louisiana, was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges on the accusation that he took as much as $213,000 from Park. Hanna was named as a witness at the trial, but Passman was found not guilty. The indictment against Park, who had spent at least some of his time following his indictment in Seoul, was dismissed in August of 1979 as part of an immunity deal for his giving investigators 31 names in the scandal. Hanna, the only person convicted in the entire Koreagate uproar, was released from prison after serving a little more than one year of his sentence.

Hanna resigned from the bar in September of 1982 and spent the rest of his days out of the spotlight. He died in June of 2001 in Tryon, North Carolina.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Rep. Hanna Won't Seek Re-election" in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 13 1974, "Traveling Companions" in The Dispatch on Mar. 28 1974, "The Washington Globetrotters" in The Dispatch on Apr. 12 1974, "Brown Leads Democratic Sweep" in the Press-Courier on Nov. 6 1974, "Hanna To Quit As Prospect For Lobbyist Post" in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 23 1975, "Gifts, Contributions From South Korea Under Investigation" in the Argus-Press on Oct. 26 1976, "Park Surrenders Bank Records" in the Lakeland Ledger on Oct. 27 1976, "Lawmaker Admits Korean Ties" in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal on Nov. 10 1976, "27 Present, Ex-Members Of Congress Linked To Park In Grand Jury Indictments" in the Toledo Blade on Sep. 7 1977, "Government Unveils Indictments Against Park" in the Rome News-Tribune on Sep. 7 1977, "Korea Probes Indict Former Lawmaker" in the Milwaukee Journal on Oct. 14 1977, "Koreagate Shadow Hits Hanna" in the Palm Beach Post on Oct. 15 1977, "Korean Agent Ties Hanna To Bribe Plot" in the Modesto Bee on Oct. 22 1977, "Korean Says Hanna Set Up Bribe Scheme" in the Anchorage Daily News on Oct. 22 1977, "Hanna Pleads Guilty In Korea Influence Buying Conspiracy" in the Lodi News-Sentinel on Mar. 18 1978, "Hanna Sentenced In Bribery Case" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Apr. 25 1978, "Park Admits Handing $850,000 To Politicians" in the Montreal Gazette on Apr. 4 1978, "Hanna Begins Prison Term" in the Palm Beach Post on May 9 1978, "Rep. Hanna To Talk At Trial" in the Lodi News-Sentinel on Mar. 21 1979, "Passman Cleared In Korea Case" in The Dispatch on Apr. 9 1979, "Koreagate Charges Dismissed" in the Gadsden Times on Aug. 17 1979, "Ex-Congressman In Bribe Scandal" in the Los Angeles Times on Sep. 9 1982, Troubled Tiger: Businessmen, Bureaucrats, and Generals in South Korea by Mark Clifford, Taking Care of the Law by Griffin B. Bell and Ronald J. Ostrow

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