The president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board and his cousin have been charged with plotting to hide the source of nearly $25,000 he claimed in campaign contributions.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office says that Refugio “Ref” Rodriguez, 46, who became board president in July, and Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, his cousin, were each charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution. Rodriguez also faces one felony count each of perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument.
Rodriguez allegedly provided his own money to Melendez and told her to distribute it to friends and relatives, who would contribute the money to Rodriguez's campaign.
Prosecutors say the investigation stemmed from a whistleblower complaint the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission received in March 2015 about Rodriguez’s fundraising.
Rodriguez announced in November 2014 that he was running for the school board. He raised more than $50,000 during his first campaign reporting that ended Dec. 31, 2014.
In total, 25 donors, most of whom were family and friends, were allegedly paid back $24,250. The donors’ names were listed on a campaign finance report that was allegedly signed by Rodriguez, prosecutors say.
Commission staff found that over a 22-day period in December 2014, nearly half of the campaign contributions were allegedly fraudulent because Rodriguez and Melendrez reimbursed them. The findings were referred to the District Attorney’s Office.
The ethics commission is pursuing its own administrative hearing process on the allegations, The Los Angeles Daily News says.
Assumed name contributions happen when one person tells another to make a campaign contribution and supplies the money for that contribution. The process may be used to circumvent rules on contribution limits and to make one appear to have more support than he or she has.
Rodriguez issued a statement after the charges were announced: “This decision by the District Attorney comes after attempts by my legal team and me to resolve these issues with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for over two years. As the product of an immigrant family, nobody has more respect for the integrity of the American justice system than I do. I have cooperated with authorities and hope these issues will be resolved expeditiously and fairly.”