Ortiz Explains Check From County Contractor
Former San Diego County Registrar of Voters Ray Ortiz admitted Tuesday that a $1,275 check paid by a printing firm to one of his employees ended up in his private account, but Ortiz claimed that part of the money was used to pay off several debts owed to him by the employee, Maria Caldera.
Prosecutors have charged that Ortiz, 52, used a contract that his office had with Los Angeles-based Jeffries Banknote Co. to divert funds for his personal use and to pay for trips for himself and his staff. According to the charges against Ortiz, he instructed Lynn Kienle, a vice president for Jeffries, to pay Caldera and another associate, Lance Gough, for consulting services and then bill the county for the money paid to them.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Douglas Gregg charged that some of the money paid to Caldera, 51, by Jeffries for consulting work was intended for Ortiz. Gregg has also charged that Ortiz manipulated the registrar’s contract with the printing company to pay for trips that included his wife and an employee.
Ortiz testified on his behalf Tuesday and answered “absolutely not” or “no” when his attorney, Merle Schneidewind, asked him repeatedly if he had ever instructed Kienle to submit illegal billings to the county or if he ever profited from the contract with Jeffries. Prosecutors have charged Ortiz with stealing $7,300 from the county in six transactions between May, 1984, and July, 1986.
A county grand jury indicted him in December on 27 felony counts of grand theft, misappropriation of public funds and making false entries in public records. He resigned Sept. 1, after the investigation became public.
On Tuesday, Ortiz testified that he persuaded Kienle on at least two occasions to hire Caldera, a lifelong friend, as an elections consultant. Caldera was a county employee at the time, but Ortiz said that he instructed her not to do consulting work for Jeffries on county time.
Caldera submitted a $1,275 invoice to Kienle on May 25, 1984, for her work in analyzing the county’s Spanish-language ballots, Ortiz said. The check paid by Jeffries to Caldera ended up in Ortiz’s private checking account.
“She owed me money. She brought it (the check) over. I took the check, endorsed it, put it in my account and gave her the difference of about $350,” said Ortiz.
According to Ortiz, he had loaned money to Caldera on several occasions so she could pay her rent and telephone bills.
Gregg has charged that Jeffries was later reimbursed for the money it paid to Caldera when it sent a $4,000 invoice to the county. However, Ortiz testified that the $4,000 was a fee for printing services that had been negotiated with Jeffries before Kienle hired Caldera as a consultant.
Under questioning by his attorney, Ortiz said he distrusted Kienle and instructed his staff to send him all billings sent by Jeffries.
“I didn’t trust Mr. Kienle . . . He tried very hard to duplicate (billings),” Ortiz said.
In 1981, Kienle sent him a padded bill for $800,000 for an off-year election, Ortiz said. After meeting with Kienle and other Jeffries officials, the bill was settled for about $400,000, he added. The county canceled its contract with Jeffries a few months later.
Ortiz said that the contract was canceled at his urging after two “hostile” meetings between county officials and executives of Jeffries.
“It got to the point where we ended up shouting at each other. There was talk about potential litigation and they went away very unhappy,” Ortiz said.
However, Jeffries was awarded a new contract in 1983 to do all of the printing for the registrar’s office.
Kienle purchased airline tickets for Ortiz, his wife and aide Ingrid Gonzalez to attend an elections conference in December, 1985, in New Orleans, Ortiz testified. After the conference, Kienle also reimbursed him for the hotel bills that he paid for him, his wife and Gonzalez, Ortiz added.
But the reimbursement check was made by Kienle’s wife to his wife, Ortiz said. The two men decided on this arrangement because they thought it would be improper for Kienle to pay him directly, Ortiz testified.
The trial will resume today, with Ortiz still on the stand. Gough is also being tried with Ortiz, while Caldera is scheduled to go to trial next month. Gough is charged with a single count of grand theft and Caldera is charged with three similar counts.