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Former L.A. Mayor Riordan is star witness at former KB Home chief Bruce Karatz's trial

April 1, 2010 |  5:46 pm

Former KB Home chief Bruce Karatz turned to a powerful ally Thursday in his defense against stock-options backdating charges, presenting former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan as the first of his character witnesses.

Riordan, who served as mayor from 1993 to 2001, told jurors at the federal courthouse in Los Angeles that he's known Karatz for 30 years, considers him a close friend and does not believe Karatz would knowingly commit a crime.

"I think he's an outstanding character who respects the law. He has a very high level of integrity," said Riordan, whose voice was so powerful that defense attorney John Keker instructed him to back away from the microphone.

Riordan During a brief cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Atty. Alexander A. Bustamante, the former mayor acknowledged that he was not familiar with the evidence in the case. His testimony lasted 10 minutes.

After he stepped down from the witness chair, Riordan hugged Karatz's wife, Lilly Tartikoff, and left the courthouse.

Riordan was the first of two rich, powerful friends expected to defend Karatz's character as his trial on options-related charges winds down. On Friday, billionaire philanthropist and KB Home co-founder Eli Broad is expected to take the witness stand.

Broad, whose net worth was estimated last month at $5.7 billion by Forbes magazine, led the fundraising for Walt Disney Concert Hall, was founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art and drove efforts to bring the 2000 Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles.

In an interview with The Times shortly after Karatz was indicted, Broad said, "In the 35 years I have known him, I can't think of any instance where he did anything unlawful, unethical or improper, even though he was always aggressively building the company."

The effect of such star-studded testimony remains to be seen. But at least one juror appeared to have been impressed by Riordan. As the former mayor spoke to a Times reporter on the steps outside the courthouse, the juror approached Riordan, extended a hand and said, "I'd like to thank you for your years of service to the city."

For the full story, click here.

-- Stuart Pfeifer

Photo: Richard Riordan. Credit: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times