The L.A. County District Attorney filed felony charges today against L.A. school board president Refugio “Ref” Rodriguez — a prominent charter school leader who grew up in Cypress Park — for allegedly violating campaign fundraising laws.
Rodriguez and his cousin allegedly reimbursed nearly $25,000 to donors, according to a whistleblower complaint filed in March 2015. He and Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez were each charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution, the District Attorney said in a press release. Rodriguez also faces one felony count each of perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument.
If convicted, Rodriguez faces a possible maximum sentence of four years and four months in local custody, while Melendrez faces up to three years in local custody.
Rodriguez and his cousin were scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon.
The District Attorney provided a brief description of what lead to the charges:
“Rodriguez, who earlier this summer became LAUSD’s president, announced in November 2014 that he was running for the school board. Despite his late start in the filing period, 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 under the penalty of perjury and submitted to the commission, prosecutors said.
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.”
In addition to serving as school board president, Rodriguez also represents Board District 5, which includes all or portions of Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, East L.A., Echo Park, Highland Park, Silver Lake and other communities.
It’s unclear how the charges will impact the Rodriguez’ influence on the school board. He was elected as president in June after a pro-charter majority took control of the school board.
Update: Rodriguez issued a statement later in the afternoon:
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
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