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Caught on Tape, Candidate Admits Vandalizing Signs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Caught on videotape tearing down an opponent’s campaign signs, Assembly candidate Rich Sybert acknowledged Thursday that he initially lied about the incidents and said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” of his actions.

The admission came a day after Sybert, in an interview with The Times, had dismissed rival candidate Tony Strickland’s claim that Sybert was behind a rash of vandalism to Strickland’s campaign signs. Sybert ridiculed Strickland’s complaint as a “publicity stunt” and said he was in bed at 3 a.m. Monday, when one sign was torn down.

“Oh, please!” Sybert said Wednesday, when he was informed that Strickland had filed a complaint with the Ventura County district attorney. “I’ve got better things to do. I’m in bed at 3 in the morning.”

But Sybert quickly recanted Thursday when Strickland released a grainy camcorder video showing four separate incidents in which a man scurried around in the darkness, tearing down Strickland signs in Thousand Oaks and Camarillo earlier this week. Sybert, admitting he was the culprit, is shown getting into two vehicles, both of which are listed under his name, according to Department of Motor Vehicles records.

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“I tore down the signs. It was a stupid prank on my part,” the Harvard-schooled lawyer and Oxnard toy company executive said somberly in an interview Thursday. “It was equally silly to lie to you about it.”

Sybert said he has no plans to withdraw from the race and argued Thursday that neither the vandalism nor his lying about it should be viewed as reflections of his character.

“All I can do is come clean and say I’m sorry,” Sybert said. “I made a mistake, but I don’t think it says anything more about me.”

Strickland campaign officials were busy Thursday distributing copies of the videotape, along with copies of the Times article, to various community leaders and Sybert backers, asking them to withdraw their support.

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The two men, both Republicans, are among seven candidates running in the 37th Assembly District primary to replace Nao Takasugi (R-Oxnard), who cannot seek reelection because of term limits.

Strickland campaign volunteers had been tailing Sybert and monitoring their signs for several days after the loss of more than 30 signs. The campaign had also hired a private investigator.

At least part of the videotape showing Sybert was shot by a Strickland campaign volunteer--a 19-year-old Pepperdine University student--early Monday.

Strickland campaign officials did not release the videotape until Thursday, a day after going public with their claims.

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“I’ll let the voters answer that question,” a beaming Strickland said when asked what the tape says about Sybert. “We’re just putting out the videotape and letting people decide for themselves whether this is someone they want in the 37th District seat.”

But some of those who attended a Sybert fund-raiser Thursday at the Spanish Hills Country Club in Camarillo said the incident in no way damaged Sybert’s reputation. The candidate apologized for the vandalism to about 50 of his supporters during the gathering, adding that he should have come clean from the start.

Tearing down campaign signs is a misdemeanor violation of a Thousand Oaks ordinance and punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. In Camarillo, such an act would fall under a general vandalism law, which treats it as a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The district attorney’s office has not said whether charges will be filed.


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