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Defense expected to request postponement in Ref Rodriguez trial

Defense expected to request postponement in Ref Rodriguez trial
Attorneys for L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez are returning to court Monday. They are expected to ask for a delay in court proceedings. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The defense team in the political money laundering case of Los Angeles school board member Ref Rodriguez will request a postponement that would push back the start of a trial, The Times has learned.

Attorneys representing both sides declined to comment Thursday, but sources close to the case confirmed what is expected to happen in a court hearing set for Monday. The sources declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

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At the Monday hearing, attorneys for Rodriguez and co-defendent Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez are expected to argue that they need more time to gather evidence, depose witnesses and prepare their defense.

Rodriguez, 46, faces three felony charges for conspiracy, perjury, and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, as well as 25 misdemeanor counts related to the alleged campaign money laundering.

Prosecutors say Rodriguez carried out a scheme in which friends and relatives donated more than $24,000 to his campaign, with the understanding that Rodriguez would reimburse them fully. He could have donated the money legally to his own campaign, but Rodriguez allegedly broke the law by concealing the true source of the contributions — denying voters accurate information about support for his campaign, according to the L.A. County district attorney's office and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

Melendrez, his cousin, faces related misdemeanor charges.

Both Rodriguez and Melendrez have denied wrongdoing.

A preliminary hearing is currently scheduled for May 9, which was to be next court appearance. But the defense decided it needed more time and would go to court earlier to make the request, the sources said.

The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the prosecution to present enough evidence to show that the case should go to trial. That May 9 hearing, which is likely to attract public attention if it occurs as scheduled, is looming even as Rodriguez is involved in meetings to choose the next superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District.

The school board is meeting Tuesday, when it could announce a selection.

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