Ex-lawmaker Mike Briggs files for bankruptcy

Ex-Fresno council member owes $1.4m.

June 14, 2011 

The state's political watchdog agency says former Assembly Member Mike Briggs owes it $43,500 -- and he shouldn't be able to get out of the debt by filing for bankruptcy.

Briggs, a local Republican who also served a term on the Fresno City Council in the 1990s, in February filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fresno. His petition lists $418,825 in assets, and more than $1.4 million in liabilities.

The money owed to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, however, is listed as an "unsecured nonpriority claim." Last week, the agency filed a complaint in bankruptcy court asking that the debt be made "non-dischargeable."

In December 2009, the Fair Political Practices Commission recommended a $34,000 fine against Briggs, his campaign, and campaign treasurer Sharron Nisbett for violations related to his unsuccessful 2004 bid for the state Assembly.

Earlier this year, the agency tacked on an additional $9,500 in fines related to Briggs' failed Fresno City Council bid last year.

To date, the agency noted in its court papers, Briggs has paid none of the fines. The agency claims that under federal bankruptcy code, "penalties imposed by the Commission, a state agency, are nondischargeable."

Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman Roman Porter said the agency will continue to seek the money from Briggs.

According to Briggs' bankruptcy petition, he owes far more money than both a rural Fresno County home he owns and another near the intersection of Olive and Van Ness avenues in the Tower District are worth.

Other debts listed include more than $100,000 in business taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, close to $10,000 to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., more than $35,000 in credit card bills and $3,750 in "boat mooring fees."

In a written statement, Briggs -- who runs a real estate business -- said that "the economy has devalued our equities to the point that we asked, as so many others have had to do, for temporary relief to reorganize and negotiate payment of some of our debts."

The statement added: "In the end of the day the IRS and the [Fair Political Practices Commission] will be satisfied with the outcome."

Briggs and his wife, Robin, initially filed for Chapter 13, which is where the debtor prepares a plan for repaying creditors over a three- to five-year period.

In April, the Briggs' changed to Chapter 11. That chapter protects against creditor lawsuits while the debtors reorganize their finances.

Briggs served a single term as the District 1 representative on the Fresno City Council before moving to Clovis and winning the 29th Assembly District seat. He served two terms before stepping down to run for Congress in the 21st Congressional District. Visalia Republican Devin Nunes won the seat.

In 2004, Steve Samuelian -- who succeeded Briggs -- announced he would not seek a second term. Briggs made a late entry into the Republican primary, which already included businessman Mike Villines and former Fresno City Council Member Chris Mathys. Villines won.

Last year, Briggs made another run at a seat on the Fresno City Council, this time in District 3. He made it to the November runoff, but lost to Oliver Baines.

During the race, controversy erupted over Briggs' residence. His homes in suburban Fresno County and in the Tower District were both outside of District 3. Briggs said he was renting the downstairs of a home owned by his longtime political ally, Scott Hawkins.

According to Briggs' bankruptcy petition, one of his unsecured debts is a $20,000 personal loan from Hawkins.

The reporter can be reached at jellis@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6320.

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