Baugh Indicted on Felony Charges in Campaign Ploy
In a case that cuts to the heart of California’s GOP leadership, a grand jury on Friday indicted state Assemblyman Scott Baugh, the Orange County Republican whose tainted election victory allowed the party to seize control of the Legislature’s lower house.
Baugh, of Huntington Beach, was charged with four felonies, including falsifying campaign reports and persuading another person to commit perjury. He also was charged with 18 misdemeanors for allegedly concealing the source of campaign money.
The grand jury also charged Rhonda Carmony, campaign manager for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, with orchestrating a GOP scheme to manipulate the Nov. 28 special election for the 67th Assembly District seat in Baugh’s favor. Also indicted was Baugh’s chief of staff, Maureen Werft, who, grand jurors say, lied on her ballot application and voted in Baugh’s election even though she did not live in his district. The charges against both women are felonies.
The indictment of Baugh, 33, culminated an investigation that has laid out in extraordinary detail the lengths to which GOP operatives were willing to go to secure the ouster of maverick Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) and Baugh’s victory--in order to take control of the Assembly.
After the hearing, Baugh stood outside Superior Court Judge David O. Carter’s courtroom and denounced Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi. He accused Capizzi of timing the indictment to fall just days before Tuesday’s primary election, when Baugh faces two Republican challengers.
“This is obviously a political ploy,” Baugh said. “It’s a witch hunt, and it’s politically motivated to be brought . . . days before an election.
“The voters of the 67th Assembly District demanded conservative leadership in that district,” Baugh said. “I’m that true conservative and am voting that true conservative platform. And Mr. Capizzi and the district attorney’s office don’t like that.”
Capizzi responded that prosecutors had targeted corruption of the electoral process and were enforcing a law enacted by initiative--the Political Reform Act.
“Fair and honest elections are the cornerstone of a democracy, and that is something we take seriously,” he said. “This is Orange County, California. . . . We are not Chicago.”
Carmony, Werft and their attorneys declined to comment Friday.
Extent of Investigation
Still unanswered is how much two of the county’s top elected officials--Rohrabacher and Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle--knew about a GOP scheme allegedly orchestrated by some of their closest aides.
Pringle figured prominently in a detailed, 65-page affidavit released Thursday in which investigators laid out their version of the scheme. Three GOP operatives, including a former Pringle aide, pleaded guilty this month in connection with the plan to draft Democrat Laurie Campbell into the race to draw votes away from Baugh’s main Democratic opponent.
All three named Carmony as a leader of the effort. Campbell told investigators under oath that Baugh had said Pringle gave his “blessing” to the scheme.
Pringle, Rohrabacher, Baugh and Carmony have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Friday morning, prosecutors were tight-lipped about the future of the investigation. But they made it clear they were not stopping with Baugh.
“This investigation is not over,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. John Conley. “It is continuing.”
The Baugh investigation has driven a wedge into the state GOP, with some party leaders calling for the resignation of Capizzi, a fellow Republican.
Baugh, Carmony and Werft surrendered Friday morning in Orange County Superior Court. Baugh, wearing a double-breasted blue blazer, strode into court holding hands with his girlfriend, Wendy Ward, whose campaign loan to Baugh figures prominently in the indictment.
Carter released Baugh and the others without bond. The judge agreed to wait until after Tuesday’s election to order booking photographs of the three, saying he did not want the photos to turn up in campaign literature of Baugh’s opponents.
If convicted, Baugh faces as much as seven years in state prison.
The indictments, though largely anticipated since Thursday’s affidavit, brought a thunderous reaction from leaders in both political parties.
“This is obvious political grandstanding by Capizzi,” said Michael Schroeder, the state GOP’s vice chairman. “Any doubts regarding the honesty and integrity of his office have now been dispelled by the fact that he waited until Friday before election day in order to take these actions, knowing full well that Baugh would not have a fair opportunity to respond before election day.”
Assembly Republicans rallied around Baugh after the indictment, declaring him innocent. They predicted that the indictments will not harm GOP efforts to reelect Baugh, maintain control of the Assembly and push through a conservative agenda.
“Scott Baugh has said he is innocent of these charges,” Pringle said in a prepared statement. “When all the facts are made known, I’m confident that a jury of his peers will reach that same conclusion.”
But Cecilia Age, the Cypress city councilwoman who is one of two candidates running against Baugh in the Republican primary, said she thought the charges would boost her candidacy.
“After this, I don’t see how anyone could vote for him,” Age said.
Baugh’s other rival, activist Barbara Coe, called for him to withdraw from the race.
Democratic Party leaders applauded the indictments, saying they hope the charges will help weaken the hold of what they describe as a GOP “political machine” that can make or break Orange County candidates.
“This is what happens when you have an entrenched one-party political machine,” said county Democratic Party Chairman Jim Toledano. “What you’re seeing is the logical consequence of absolute power corrupting absolutely.”
The indictments also put the spotlight on Capizzi, whose own party members accuse him of criminalizing what they consider routine political shenanigans. The proper place for such complaints, they said, is the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Other people praised the district attorney, saying he deserved credit for pushing ahead with the case at his own political peril.
“Mike Capizzi has earned his bones prosecuting political corruption,” said former Democratic Assemblyman Tom Umberg. “It is very heartening that he has not noticed that Scott Baugh is from the Republican machine.”
Capizzi maintained that the investigation was launched because “the conduct here is really an affront to all of the people and registered voters in that district. It victimized the voters and also victimized the other candidates in that race. There were Republicans in that race who were victimized as well as the Democratic candidate.”
The indictments Friday also seem likely to focus more attention on Pringle.
Documents and sworn statements compiled by investigators show that Pringle aide Mark Denny was deeply involved in the effort to draft Campbell, and that Pringle’s chief of staff, Jeff Flint, knew about it. Denny, who resigned from his job, is one of the three political workers who pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme. Flint has not been charged.
Phone records of the day when Campbell signed up as a candidate in the race show several calls from various GOP operatives to Pringle’s campaign and district offices.
Campbell herself said under oath that Baugh assured her Pringle had given the scheme his “blessing.” So far, that is the only statement directly implicating Pringle. None of the three GOP operatives, including Denny, have implicated the speaker.
The indictment alleges that Baugh committed four felonies, all of them perjury or suborning perjury, in connection with the filing of campaign and personal financial disclosure documents between October 1995 and January 1996. He also was indicted for 18 misdemeanor violations of the Political Reform Act, which governs campaign spending and reporting.
Some of the allegations concern Baugh’s omitting contributions. Others involve his accepting personal loans from individuals, then loaning similar sums to his campaign--in effect, concealing the source. These loans were reported as coming from Baugh rather than their originator, court papers allege.
Still other charges involve Baugh’s alleged failure to disclose the source of thousands of dollars in loans and donations to his campaign and how and when they were repaid. The allegations are that Baugh falsified loan repayment dates to make it appear that his campaign treasury had more money than it did.
The probe into the 67th Assembly District race began in October, after a report in The Times that Campbell had filed falsified nominating petitions when she entered the contest.
The race was a critical one to the state GOP. Republican officials had launched a recall campaign against Assemblywoman Allen for joining with Democrats who elected her speaker.
Baugh succeeded Allen by capturing the winner-take-all special election Nov. 28, the same day Allen was recalled. Baugh’s election and Allen’s ouster were pivotal for the GOP because they gave Republicans enough votes to take control of the Assembly. With Baugh providing the winning margin, Pringle was elected speaker in January.
During the campaign, Republican leaders were confident they would oust Allen, but feared that too many Republicans would split the GOP vote, allowing Democrat Linda Moulton-Patterson to win the northwest Orange County seat.
That prompted the alleged scheme to recruit Campbell.
Campbell said she met Carmony and Richard Martin, one of the Republican workers who pleaded guilty to fraudulently circulating Campbell’s nominating petitions, and was drawn into a discussion about the field of candidates, where those present noted that Moulton-Patterson was the only Democrat in the race.
Over the next few weeks, Campbell said, she talked several times about the election with Baugh, whom she has known since 1986, when both worked at the Sacramento offices of the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
The affidavit details frequent contacts between Baugh and Campbell. When the decoy candidate ploy soured in October and Democrats challenged the Campbell candidacy in court, Baugh told her not to worry about her attorney’s bills, Campbell said in the affidavit.
Though it is not illegal for a member of one political party to recruit a candidate from another party, Campbell was ultimately thrown off the ballot in October, before the election, because a judge concluded she had filed falsified nominating petitions.
“I’m glad the truth is finally coming out,” Moulton-Patterson said Friday, after the indictments were filed. “They tampered with democracy. This one was rigged from day one.”
Times staff writer Eric Bailey contributed to this report.