Marvin Levin, a Sacramento developer who alerted the FBI to corruption in the California Legislature in the 1980s and played a pivotal role in the ensuing sting operation, has died. He was 76.
Levin, who had been in declining health for a decade, died Nov. 19 at his home in Tamarac, Fla., said his wife, Janet.
For three years, Levin had been an invaluable informant in the sting, which ended in 1988 when 30 investigators raided the Capitol offices of four legislators and two legislative aides.
Wearing a recording device in a cowboy boot, Levin taped dozens of meetings with legislatives aides as well as the Yolo County sheriff as he gathered evidence for the FBI sting operation.
In the end, several lawmakers, a member of the state Board of Equalization, several legislative staffers and a lobbyist were ensnared. The sheriff and undersheriff of Yolo County were convicted in a spinoff case.
By offering to become an informant, Levin "provided us with an opportunity, with a set of experiences that were fairly compelling," U.S. Atty. David F. Levi told The Times in 1988. "He was crucial."
As a consultant-lobbyist, Levin said he had experienced Capitol corruption firsthand and was motivated to deal with it because "somebody had to," according to the 1988 article.
In the sting, FBI agents posing as businessmen offered lawmakers and their aides campaign contributions and other payments in exchange for help with special-interest bills that would benefit phony companies set up for the undercover operation.
Levin helped write special-interest bills that would supposedly help a bogus company and introduced the agents to legislative aides.
The undercover work took a toll on his health and family life, Levin later said. He had three heart attacks during the sting, according to his wife.
Born July 8, 1934, in Chicago, Levin was one of three children of Jewish refugees from Russia. His father was a storekeeper.
Friends and family described him as an adventurer and world traveler who sought to provide aid in Third World countries. He had worked for the Red Cross in South Korea and traveled to India and the Philippines for CARE, the poverty-fighting humanitarian organization.
Eventually, he became a lobbyist-consultant for a small business development agency in Fresno and a developer.
Levin worried that his involvement in the case would affect a $600-million riverfront development in West Sacramento that he and partners were trying to build, The Times reported in 1989. But the project got built.
The only personal benefit he received for helping federal investigators, Levin told The Times in 1988, was $1,800 to cover out-of-pocket costs that included a paint job to make his 1978 Buick look more respectable, the cowboy boots and clothes purchased because FBI agents didn't think he was "flashy enough."
With Janet, his wife of 20 years, he had lived on the beach in Fort Lauderdale for nine years and moved to Tamarac several months ago.
In addition to his wife, Levin is survived by two daughters from a previous marriage, Anne and Heather; a stepdaughter, Susan Perales; and a sister, Elaine Kaufman.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun