A primer: Comparing voter fraud charges against two L.A. politicians

How does the ongoing trial of former L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon differ from the Roderick Wright case?

With closing arguments set to begin Wednesday in the perjury and voter fraud trial of former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, parallels have been drawn between his case and another residency law prosecution involving a veteran Los Angeles-area politician.

In January, state Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) was tried and found guilty of perjury and voter fraud for lying about where he lived so he could run for state office. Alarcon is accused of doing the same to gain a council seat.

Here is a quick primer on how the politicians and their cases are similar and different:

Who are the players?

Wright, 62, has served in the state Assembly and Senate. The Democrat twice ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles City Council

Alarcon, 60, also served in the Assembly and Senate as well as the council. The Democrat was forced to step last year because of council term limits.

Alarcon's wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, has also been accused of lying so her husband could run for office. Montes de Oca Alarcon, 49, married Alarcon in 2007.

What are the allegations? 

Both cases were prosecuted by the Los Angeles County district attorney's Public Integrity Division, and deal with election law residency requirements. The Los Angeles City Charter and California law require that candidates live in the districts they seek to represent.

Wright was accused of falsely claiming he lived in Inglewood in 2007 so he could run for what was then the 25th Senate District. Prosecutors said he actually lived in a nicer home outside the district in Baldwin Hills.

Prosecutors said Wright schemed to make it appear like he lived in Inglewood just so he could run for office.

Alarcon and his wife have been accused of falsely claiming they lived in Panorama City in Los Angeles' 7th Council District so Alarcon could run for that seat in 2007 and 2009. Prosecutors allege that the Alarcons actually lived in a nicer home outside the district in Sun Valley.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michele Gilmer has called Alarcon a "career politician" who resigned a state Assembly seat and switched his voter registration address to run for council in part because that post offered better retirement benefits.

What are the specific charges?

The charges all stemmed from the defendants allegedly lying on campaign, voter registration and Department of Motor vehicle documents.

Wright faced eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud committed between 2007 and 2009.

Alarcon faces 16 felony counts of perjury and voter fraud and Montes de Oca Alarcon faces five from documents they filed between 2006 and 2009.

How did the defenses differ?

Wright's attorney argued that state election law is murky. He said a home in Inglewood that Wright arranged to share with a friend was his true home, or "domicile," even though he did not spend every night there.

The state election code defines a residence for voting purposes as a "domicile" that can be a place one intends to return to after an absence and retain as a permanent residence.

During his trial, Wright testified that he did not intend to deceive when he moved some belongings to the Inglewood home. He said he thought that was enough to comply with the law and make that his domicile. 

The Alarcons have said they were not always at their Panorama City home because they were repairing it. They said they intended to return after  renovations were finished, and therefore it was their domicile. Defense attorneys this week presented evidence showing construction work at the house.

Wright testified at his trial; the Alarcons did not testify at theirs.

What was the outcome?

After jurors deliberated for less than two full days, Wright was found guilty of all eight counts in January.

Jurors in the Alarcon trial are likely to begin deliberating by the end of Wednesday. To deliver a conviction, their decision must be unanimous.

How much prison time could the politicians face?

Wright faces a maximium of eight years and four months in state prison. He has not yet been sentenced.

If convicted, Alarcon could face up to five years in state prison and his wife four.

Follow @skarlamangla on Twitter for continuing coverage of the Alarcon trial. 

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