Rio Hondo College officials have asked five government agencies to help them find out who sent a bogus "hit" letter, typed on college stationery, to district voters just days before the Nov. 7 trustees election.
The letter, written by a group claiming to be the "staff committee for ethical elections," sharply criticized board President Hilda Solis, who was up for reelection against candidates David Flores and Elizabeth Van Note. Solis won with 45.7% of the vote.
The letter said: "We the faculty of Rio Hondo are concerned about ethical practices being conducted as a part of the election of your representative to the Board of Trustees." The letter went on to accuse Solis of living outside the district, associating with an accused child molester and supporting college liberals who want a large pay raise for the faculty. Solis says the allegations are false and defamatory.
College officials say they are upset because the letter was written on college stationery by a group that does not exist, and falsely gave the impression that it was official college business.
Tim Wood, vice president of administrative affairs, said the college has asked the state attorney general's office, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, the state Fair Political Practices Commission, the U.S. Postal Service fraud division and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to help investigate. College officials say they have few leads.
"We believe we are doing our civic duty to inform the authorities of criminal activity," Wood said. The college wants to "help maintain the integrity of the voting process," he continued.
Officials of the district attorney's office have told the college that they have already started their investigation, "but it is a slow process," Wood said.
"The letter has not been linked to an individual," he said. The faculty association is offering a $500 reward for anyone who has information about the origin of the letter.
Solis said the letter caught her off guard. The day before the election, Solis and her supporters walked door-to-door to deny the allegations.
On the eve of the election, Solis said she was worried that the letter had lost her the race. But the race was never close, mostly because Solis waged an aggressive campaign to combat the letter, Pam Cox, spokeswoman for the college said.
Cox said college officials hope that the investigation will discourage such letters in the future.
"We did not expect this type of thing to take place," Cox said. "And we want to make sure it does not happen again."