LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Los Angeles Unified School District board president was charged Wednesday with giving almost $25,000 to his first school board campaign and filing campaign finance reports that made it look like the funds came from legitimate donors, according to county prosecutors.
Refugio Rodriguez, 46, who was elected to the school district’s board as president in July, has been charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, one count each of perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument. He also faces 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution, the LA County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Prosecutors also charged Rodriguez’s 45-year-old cousin Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez with playing a part in the alleged conspiracy. The defendants were initially due to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon at a criminal court in downtown Los Angeles, but the hearing was continued to Oct. 24.
“I can’t say anything about it at this time, unfortunately,” Rodriguez told a reporter Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times, and deferred questions to his attorney.
The 14-page felony complaint says that just weeks after Rodriguez announced he was running for the school board in November 2014, he cashed out a $26,000 business investment and handed over a check to Melendrez with instructions on what to do next.
Melendrez then deposited the money into an account belonging to Rodriguez’s parents and told the mother to sign 16 checks to family and friends, and the funds were then counted as campaign donations, prosecutors say.
The complaint says that the same month, Melendrez delivered cash reimbursements to 25 friends and family who had “donated” money. Almost half the campaign contributions over 22 days in December 2014 were reimbursements, according to prosecutors. The donors appeared as legitimate donors on campaign forms on Jan. 12, 2015, with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, prosecutors say in the complaint.
Acting on a March 2015 whistleblower complaint, the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission launched an investigation of Rodriguez, leading to a criminal probe of the official who successfully ran for the school board on his first attempt. He represents District Five, which covers an area from Los Feliz to South Gate.
Rodriguez faces up to four years and four months in jail and Melendrez faces up to three years in jail if convicted.