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Contra Costa County district attorney resigns, pleads no contest to felony perjury

Contra Costa County district attorney resigns, pleads no contest to felony perjury
Contra Costa County Dist. Atty. Mark Peterson (Paul Chinn / San Francisco Chronicle)

The district attorney of Contra Costa County pleaded no contest to a felony perjury charge then promptly resigned Wednesday, hours after being charged with using more than $66,000 in campaign funds to pay personal bills and to buy jewelry and other items.

Mark Peterson entered his plea to a single count of perjury. A judge promptly sentenced him to three years' informal probation and ordered him to serve 250 hours of community service. Shortly afterward, Peterson also resigned from his office.

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Earlier Wednesday, the California attorney general's office had charged Peterson with 12 counts of felony perjury and a single count of felony grand theft for allegedly lying on his campaign disclosure forms from 2012 to 2015.

In exchange for the no contest plea to the one felony, prosecutors dropped the other charges. Peterson issued no statement.

The felony counts came after a county grand jury formally accused the county's top prosecutor of "willful or corrupt" misconduct and began separate proceedings to remove him from office.

Peterson was fined $45,000 in January after a state investigation disclosed the personal expenditures to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

According to the FPPC inquiry, Peterson used campaign funds for about 600 personal expenditures totaling $66,372, including groceries, jewelry store bills and movie tickets.

Peterson was detained last week by state investigators, and his iPhone, iPad and other records were seized under a search warrant as part of the ongoing investigation.

First elected district attorney in 2010, Peterson ran unopposed in 2014. But his political career faltered in December 2016 when questions arose about campaign fund expenditures and withdrawals.

Petersen acknowledged to the FPPC that he used campaign funds for personal expenses when he served as treasurer for his reelection campaign. Peterson has maintained that he borrowed the money with the intention of paying it back. He admitted to the violations and said he was "humbled and embarrassed" by them.

In levying its January fine, the FPPC ruled that Peterson violated California's political reform act nine times.

Then, in May, a civil grand jury recommended that Peterson be removed from his position. The grand jury found that Peterson had engaged in "willful or corrupt misconduct in office."

After the civil grand jury called for his ouster, Contra Costa County prosecutors gave Peterson an overwhelming vote of no confidence.

"Every single day the prosecutors in this office work hard to protect the people of this county and get justice for victims of crime," said Aron DeFerrari, president of the Contra Costa County prosecutors union. "We have done our jobs in the shadow of Mr. Peterson's malfeasance for too long. … As line prosecutors, our efforts to bring justice will never relent, but we are ready to close this chapter in our office history."

Twitter: @lacrimes

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UPDATES:

7:05 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect Peterson's resignation from office.

This article was originally published at 3:10 p.m.

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