Los Angeles Unified School District
Former Los Angeles School Board Member Ref Rodriguez

Los Angeles school board member pleads guilty to conspiracy

July 24, 2018
Refugio Rodriguez hid the fact that he was the source of many donations to his election campaign

Los Angeles school board member Refugio Rodriguez has pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy and resigned from office.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Rodriguez, 47, admitted to a scheme to conceal that he was the true source of early donations to his campaign.

Rodriguez had been the leader of a charter school-backed majority that took control of the board a year ago. Two months after Rodriguez became school board president, the criminal charges led him to give up the presidency. He remained on the board while the charges were pending.

Under a deal with prosecutors, Rodriguez will avoid jail time and be sentenced to three years’ probation and 60 days of community service.

Rodriguez also pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of assumed-name contribution.

Rodriguez had faced three felony charges and 25 misdemeanor counts and could have received several years in prison if convicted.

To settle the charges against him, Rodriguez had to make two deals. Besides the court plea, Rodriguez had to resolve an enforcement action by the city’s Ethics Commission, which oversees local elections.

That matter was settled when the Ethics Commission approved a deal under which Rodriguez and his collaborator in the funding scheme, Elizabeth Melendrez, agreed to pay a joint $100,000 fine to the ethics body.

Jim Sutton, an attorney for Rodriguez and Melendrez, told the commission that Rodriguez “takes full responsibility” and would pay the fine on behalf of Melendrez.

Rodriguez admitted that he “engaged in money laundering to further his 2015 campaign for a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.”

Late in 2014, Rodriguez, who was then a senior executive at a charter school organization, was putting together his first run for office. That December, he instructed Melendrez, his cousin, to enlist contributors and later reimburse them with Rodriguez’s money.

A whistleblower filed a complaint in March 2015, about two months before Rodriguez was elected, but the issue did not become public until nearly 2½ years later.

Melendrez, 45, has pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of assumed-name contribution. She also will serve 60 days of community service and three years’ probation.

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