‘97 Baldwin Park Council Race Target of Fraud Probe
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is investigating allegations of fraud in the 1997 Baldwin Park City Council election, according to local officials.
A letter from the district attorney’s office to Baldwin Park Mayor Bette Lowes acknowledged that an election fraud investigation has been underway since last year.
The Aug. 3 letter does not detail the possible election law violations, but City Clerk Linda Gair said the probe involves absentee ballot applications submitted by the campaign of Manuel Lozano, a first-term councilman who won his seat in the March 1997 election.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Krag, who is named in the letter as the investigation’s supervisor, confirmed that the inquiry concerns potentially forged absentee ballot applications.
Gair said Lozano’s brother, Guadalupe Lozano, turned in the applications to her office in February 1997, and she immediately suspected the documents might be forged because of irregularities such as handwriting similarities and incorrect spellings of street names.
“Some of the ballot applications were so similar my grandchildren could have spotted it,” Gair said.
The city clerk said county election officials rejected 37 of the 42 applications for various deficiencies, including the fact that several applications were filled out for people who are not registered to vote.
Voters can submit absentee ballot applications to local election officials, but it is also common for campaign workers to gather applications from likely supporters and submit them in bundles.
Lozano was the top vote-getter in the four-way race for two council seats, finishing more than 400 votes ahead of second-place finisher Bill Van Cleave.
A few days after the election, Gair said she confronted the newly elected councilman about the ballot applications and he told her he did not believe her allegations of irregularities.
City officials referred the matter to the district attorney’s special investigation division that handles political probes, she said.
When Lowes asked the district attorney’s office earlier this year what action it had taken, she received the letter stating that an investigation was being conducted.
Lozano said he has not been contacted by the prosecutor’s office about the probe and does not know anything about the investigation.
Gair said she believes that the City Council recently punished her for her role in sparking the investigation. On Aug. 19, the council voted to eliminate her appointed position as head of the city clerk’s department, which paid $68,000 a year. She remains the elected city clerk, a position that pays $2,400 a year.
Lozano disagreed. “There is absolutely no politics behind this decision. This is an economic implementation,” he said. The city, he said, has a $2.5-million budget deficit and Gair’s position was among a handful eliminated.
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