Printers Charged in Political Corruption Case
Widening their crackdown on alleged political corruption in South Gate, authorities have charged a printing company owner with conspiring to distribute illegal “hit piece” mailers during the last election.
The owner of Los Angeles-based Pyramid Press, Angel Gonzalez, and his production manager, Katrina Jackson, are suspected of falsely claiming in a flier that a City Council candidate had been disqualified from the ballot.
The case, filed late Thursday, marks the first time prosecutors have tried to clamp down on the rampant use of false election mailers in the city. It also adds to the city’s political turmoil because of Gonzalez’s ties with some of the city’s key elected officials.
Prosecutors allege that the mailer contained fake depictions of public documents, including the seal of Los Angeles County Superior Court, to give the appearance of legitimacy.
While mailers making false claims are not necessarily illegal, using fake depictions of public documents does violate election code laws. The targeted candidate, Patricia Acosta, lost the election by about 1,000 votes.
Jackson was also charged with lying about her residency to run in the same election. Prosecutors believe she lives in Los Angeles, not South Gate. Last month, former South Gate council candidate Richard Mayer was convicted on similar charges.
Gonzalez and Jackson are scheduled to surrender themselves Monday at their arraignment. If found guilty, Gonzalez faces a possible three-year prison term; Jackson faces a potential maximum sentence of five years.
Their attorney, John D. Robertson, was unavailable for comment.
South Gate, a working-class city of 96,000 residents, has long had a reputation for blatantly false campaign fliers. One flier falsely claimed that a youth football coach was a child molester.
On Friday many observers of South Gate’s rough-and-tumble politics welcomed the charges filed by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s public integrity unit.
“As a victim of campaign smear tactics, I say praise the Lord,” said Councilman Henry Gonzalez, adding that mailers have often falsely accused him of corrupt practices.
Shop Owner Linked to City Officials
The case raises questions about the nature of the relationship between printer Angel Gonzalez and several elected officials, including the city’s perceived power broker, Treasurer Albert Robles.
Gonzalez is Robles’ longtime printer of campaign materials. He has also published mailers for Robles’ allies, Mayor Raul Moriel and Vice Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba.
Prosecutors said there is not sufficient evidence linking Robles or others to the mailer, but believe that Jackson and Angel Gonzalez conspired with someone to produce it.
Robles was unavailable for comment. Moriel said it was unfair to smear people’s reputations simply because they used Gonzalez’s services.
“I had nothing to do with [the mailer], and I don’t know anybody that had anything to do with that,” he said.
The Gonzalez-Robles relationship will likely become a major issue in the voter recall campaign against Robles and his council majority allies, and intensify the political battles that have brought this city to the verge of a meltdown.
The mailer attacking candidate Acosta was sent to 12,000 homes on March 6, the day of an election fielding 10 candidates to fill two seats on the City Council.
The two-sided flier claimed that the city clerk, the city’s top election official, had disqualified Acosta from the ballot because she was the target of a corruption investigation by the district attorney’s office.
One side--topped by the message: “Important Ballot Change, Candidate Disqualification"--used the seal of California. The flip side used the seal of Los Angeles Superior Court and the same format as an official legal complaint.
The flier was so effective that many residents showed up at the polls with the mailers, asking poll workers if the allegations were true, said residents and prosecutors.
“The entire thing was faked. . . . It was totally confusing,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry Bork, the lead prosecutor on the case.
“When you get large numbers of more recent immigrants who may be more prone to believing official-looking documents, you could see how there could be confusion about this.”
Prosecutors cracked the case after a bulk-mail house worker identified Jackson as the person who ordered the mailer’s distribution. Investigators later searched the offices of Pyramid Press.