LA SCHOOL REPORT--The day after a seemingly uneventful and smooth-running school board meeting that newly elected LA Unified School Board President Ref Rodriguez proudly ended at an earlier-than-usual 5 p.m., the district seemed to be shaken to its core.
On Wednesday, Rodriguez was charged with three felony counts involving campaign contributions to his 2015 election bid. Rodriguez’s cousin was also charged with one felony.
Immediately, questions erupted. Does he have to step down? What’s going to happen to the school board? What about the “Kids First” agenda?
One major thing the district is trying to emphasize is that no one has been convicted of anything yet, and that people are innocent until proven guilty. The district and school board members have issued statements showing how they are trying to keep business going as usual.
Here are a few of the early answers that we know about the case, and we will provide more information as we can.
- What are the charges against him?
Ref (whose full name is Refugio) Rodriguez, 46, was charged officially with “conspiracy, perjury, and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument” relating to his election campaign in 2015. He, and his cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez who worked on his campaign, were also charged with 25 counts of “assumed name contribution.” Read the full complaint here.
There are limits to how much money someone can contribute to a campaign, and going around it can be considered a form of money laundering, according to investigators. “Assumed name contributions” happens when a person asks someone else to make a contribution to a campaign and supplies the money to pay for it. Such contributions create the appearance of broader support for the candidate while allowing him or her skirt some campaign rules.
Rodriguez is accused of reimbursing nearly $25,000 to people — mostly family and friends — who donated to his campaign. When Rodriguez signed off on his list of donors filed with the LA Ethics Commission, prosecutors say he committed perjury because Rodriguez allegedly knew that some of the donors listed on the form were reimbursed and did not contribute their own money. The LA Ethics Commission called it a political money laundering scheme. (Read the rest.)