County Construction Company Owner Who Aided Richmond FBI Probe Commits
June 1, 2001
The following story about the suicide death of a Marin County contractor who allegedly aided the FBI in their probe of Richmond corruption appeared in today’s Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Jim Ghilotti was owner of Ghilotti Construction Co., which has had road construction contracts with Richmond in the past, including parts of the Richmond Parkway. According to the Press Democrat, “ Ghilotti told friends he was part of the ongoing probe, which in its early stages looked at two Richmond city councilmen and a former mayor accused of soliciting bribes from construction companies in exchange for being awarded city contracts.
In conversations with friends and associates, Ghilotti described himself as a whistleblower in the investigation. He said he allowed federal agents to surreptitiously record conversations.”
GHILOTTI DEATH DECLARED SUICIDE - CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY LEADER STRUGGLED WITH STRESS OF LIVING IN THE PUBLIC EYE, FRIENDS SAY (Headline)
June 1, 2001, By CECILIA M. VEGA, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A janitor saw Jim Ghilotti praying in an Inglewood church an hour before he died in the church’s parking lot from what police Thursday declared was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
A day after the third-generation construction executive committed suicide, police and people who knew the Sonoma man tried to piece together the puzzling details surrounding his death.
“Definitely it’s a suicide,” Inglewood Police Detective Russ Enyeart said. “It (the case) is closed. Absolutely.”
Friends say that while Ghilotti—the co-founder, vice president and general manager of Ghilotti Construction Co., the third-largest commercial construction company in Sonoma County—seemed composed on the surface, privately he struggled with the stresses of living in the spotlight.
Brian Sobel, who has known Ghilotti since they attended San Rafael High School together, said he met with Ghilotti for lunch about two months ago and sensed that Ghilotti seemed different.
“He wasn’t the same old Jim to me,” Sobel said.
He said Ghilotti was bothered by the pressure of being in the public eye all the time.
In October, he narrowly lost a race for a seat on the Sonoma City Council. He also was a driving force behind Measure B, the unsuccessful effort in March 2000 to pass a sales tax to widen Highway 101. His company contributed nearly $90,000 in cash, loans and staff time to the campaign.
“I don’t want to say it was a precursor to anything, but being in the public eye all the time exacts a toll,” Sobel said. “That was a source of pain and pleasure for him. Probably equal parts. It’s not easy being out in front all the time.”
A woman visiting St. John’s Chrysostom Catholic Church in Inglewood on Wednesday afternoon noticed Ghilotti’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup parked in the parking lot, said Scott Carrier, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Coroner.
The woman saw Ghilotti slumped over the steering wheel, thought he needed help and called for paramedics.
“The vehicle was locked. That’s how we concluded that he died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Carrier said.
Firefighters broke the passenger window to get inside the truck, where authorities found two guns. No note was found.
Ghilotti, 46, was wearing a black polo shirt and blue jeans when he was pronounced dead at 1:37 p.m. Wednesday. There was luggage in the back of his truck, Enyeart said.
“There’s no way of telling where he had been. We’re going to check the luggage and the tags and all that,” he said. “It’s not that we’re looking into any foul play on this. It’s just to cover all the bases.”
The truck was parked in the crowded parking lot, about a mile from the Los Angeles International Airport. The large church, which shares its property with a high school, typically is a busy place, Enyeart said.
But when and why Ghilotti ended up there remains unclear.
Police do not know how long he had been in Southern California or when he left home. He had not been reported missing. Enyeart also did not know the make of the guns found in Ghilotti’s truck.
“I think a lot of these questions will probably be answered when we go through the luggage,” Enyeart said. “How he ended up here is beyond me. I don’t have the slightest idea.”
Ghilotti and his wife, Diane, have a teen-age son and daughter. Family members contacted Thursday declined to comment.
Inglewood police said Thursday they were unaware that Ghilotti testified before a federal grand jury as part of an FBI investigation into alleged corruption involving building contracts in Richmond.
Ghilotti told friends he was part of the ongoing probe, which in its early stages looked at two Richmond city councilmen and a former mayor accused of soliciting bribes from construction companies in exchange for being awarded city contracts.
In conversations with friends and associates, Ghilotti described himself as a whistleblower in the investigation. He said he allowed federal agents to surreptitiously record conversations.
At one point, Ghilotti said, he was prepared to attend a meeting on a boat moored off Sausalito to make a payment as part of an FBI sting. It’s not known whether the meeting took place.
But Ghilotti’s company did win a contract to build a segment of the $200 million Richmond Parkway.
His uncle, Mario Ghilotti, vice president of Ghilotti Brothers Construction in San Rafael, bid for the same contract but lost. He also testified before the grand jury.
Friends say Jim Ghilotti was hard-working and genuine.
“If he saw the cause as truly needy, he was right in there putting in his heart and soul,” said Charlie Carson, executive director of the northern division of the Home Builders Association of Northern California. “It was just a big surprise to me. I just had no idea that anything like this was going on.”
Sobel said Ghilotti often believed in sealing a deal with his word or a handshake instead of a contract.
“Jim’s word was as good as the key to the bank,” Sobel said. “I have to celebrate the positives in his life. He profoundly and positively affected a lot of people’s lives.”
Staff Writer Tobias Young contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Cecilia M. Vega at 521-5213 or e-mail email@example.com.