Robert L. Citron, Key Player in County Bankruptcy, Dies

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Robert L. Citron, the Orange County treasurer who became infamous for making bad investments that ultimately led to Orange County’s 1994 bankruptcy, died Wednesday at age 87.

He died at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange of complications from a heart attack, his wife, Terry Citron, told the Los Angeles Times.

Citron, a native Californian and longtime resident of Santa Ana, was a career bureaucrat in the county’s treasury department who in the early 1990s was praised as a financial wiz for his ability to generate investment returns for the county that consistently beat the market.

But he was generating those returns by making complex and risky bets on Wall Street that in 1994 unraveled in spectacular fashion.

From the Times Story:

The county declared bankruptcy Dec. 6, 1994, buffeted by losses that, when the final count was tallied, amounted to $1.64 billion. … The bankruptcy sent shock waves through Wall Street and the municipal bond market. It also made national headlines, with some asking how such a prosperous county could become insolvent.

A grand jury investigation would later find that the treasurer, who over the years won so much praise for his investment skills, relied upon a mail order astrologer and a psychic for interest rate predictions as the county’s treasury began to falter.

Citron pleaded guilty to six felony counts, including filing false statements to participants in the Orange County Treasury Investment Pool. His lawyer, David Wiechert, submitted medical testimony indicating that Citron was in the early stages of dementia.

The bankruptcy, which until very recently was the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, was devastating to the county. Scores of people lost their jobs, and many programs were either eliminated or suffered severe cuts.

Citron is survived by his wife of 57 years, according to the Times.

— DAVID WASHBURN

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