School board president slapped with felony charges over campaign fundraising

Ref Rodriguez at Sept 12 School Board Meeting

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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  1. This is a pretty major story considering how much money has been flowing into the school board races from wealthy charter school boosters. This means the LAUSD school board’s pro-charter members will no longer have a majority. Does anyone know what happens to Rodriguez’s seat on the school board? Will there be a special election?

    • Agreed that this is a big story. Given the backdrop that you sketched — monied interests wanting to set up for-profit schools — the illegal laundering of money through family *should* set off alarms. This kind of crime is exactly what you would expect (and fear). It’s of no use to replace a sluggish, public bureaucracy with a privatized system run by crooks! I had seen, back in Villlaraigosa’s time, some merit in disturbing the LAUSD bureaucracy with selected charter schools. But, seeing this type of leader coming out of the charter system has changed my mind.

    • I am wondering the same thing. I hope Andrew Thomas will take the seat, as he deserved the whole time since he did no money laundering, perjury, cash lottery for his votes.
      This is disgusting that this seat was taken this way and I hope the majority shifts back to public after this.
      I also hope this opens up people’s eyes about what the charter advocates call “school choice” and realize they are sugar coating corruption, not too dissimilar from DeVos and her vouchers.
      If there is another election, we must not get another charter pundit in the seat!!!

    • Nothing happens to change the make up of the school board at this time. Rodriguez remains innocent until proven guilty, he can remain on the board. At this time, whether he will remain or leave is up to him. Yes, the board might vote to change leaders, be Rodriguez can remain as a voting member.

      His hold on his seat will be jeopardized only if convicted — and I’m not sure, he might have to be convicted of the one felony, not just the misdemeanors. How that case develops down the line remains to be seen, but it is very possible he might either reach a plea bargain that eliminates the felony or just beat it at trial — after all, if this case were as straight forward and open-and-shut as the prosecutors announcement, it would not have taken three years to bring charges; we have only one side of this story. Of course, such a plea bargain might also require that he resign his post, but again, it remains to be seen how it develops.

      As for the board losing its charter school majority, that too would remain to be seen; any successor to Rodriguez might also be a charter-supporter.

  2. This man is founder of my middle school, and high school (CALS Charter) he is also uncle to a class mate i had. He spoke a lot im my school and help out many kids find great colleges ( UC and State University’s)

  3. Same election, and PAC that held a cash lottery just for showing up at the polls. That was pretty shady too.

  4. Shady Villarigoza politics still at play, when you receive your new election mailers ck.out the endorsers, Fong lost me with Villarigoza endorsement. Hopefully the money trail will one day put TONY VILLAR behind bars too. Remember You sell have Brown Moser Monica a huge Villar fan.

    • Just to clarify for those who do not know, by Villar, Anon is referring to Villaraigosa. His original surname was Villar; he changed it upon being married by the couple adopting a merged name of Villaraigosa, his wife’s original surname being Raigosa. Of course, now the serial philanderer has been divorced, but has retained the merged name — he needs that name recognition to pursue his campaign for governor.

  5. If true, I don’t believe I can forgive this transgression. It is a crime that one would have to seriously think about and plan through multiple steps to execute, indicating a clear disregard for the law.

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