School Trustee Will Resign in Plea Deal

Times Staff Writer

A West Covina Unified School District board member agreed to resign Monday and pleaded guilty to falsifying his residency, which prosecutors say was in Downey, a dozen miles outside the district.

Peter Sabatino Jr., 49, is expected to be sentenced Feb. 19 to three years of probation and 250 hours of community service as part of a plea arrangement struck with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

As a condition of the plea, Sabatino also must resign from the post he has held for nearly 14 years, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Ceballos. Sabatino is the fourth public official in less than a year to admit or to be found guilty of residency violations by Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's public integrity section.

"Obtaining his resignation was a primary factor in negotiations. If he had not agreed to leave office, this case would have gone to trial," Ceballos said. Sabatino is expected to resign at the Feb.11 school board meeting.

Under the plea agreement, Sabatino also cannot accept reappointment to the five-member school board, Ceballos said.

Despite news reports that authorities were examining whether he lived in the district, Sabatino won reelection to the school board by 44 votes in November 2001.

As part of the plea deal, a separate perjury charge against him will be dismissed. A judge last year dismissed two other counts against Sabatino of perjury and falsifying a document.

Sabatino was charged in January 2002 after prosecutors alleged that he lived at a Downey house that he shared with his then-17-year-old son, rather than at his mother's home in Valinda, which is in the West Covina school district. State election codes require candidates and school board members to live in the districts they represent.

When search warrants were served at both addresses on Oct. 26, 2001, district attorney investigators discovered Sabatino clad in a towel at 7 a.m. at the Downey house on Bigby Street, Ceballos said. In June 1998, Sabatino refinanced the Downey home using a Federal Housing Authority-backed loan with a provision that he must use the property as his "principal residence," records show.

Sabatino, a records manager for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, did not return telephone calls Monday.

In an October 2001 interview, he denied that he lived at the Downey house, which he bought in 1996. Sabatino said he lived in a home owned by his mother in the unincorporated area known as Valinda. He listed that house as his residence when he ran for the school board in 1997 and again in 2001.

At the time, he said, his bills came to the Valinda address and he slept on the sofa when he stayed at the Downey address.

"I spend time at the Downey house because my 17-year-old son lives there. There isn't a bed there for me," he said. Sabatino said that his prosecution was political.

Sabatino was appointed to the school board in 1988 to fill a vacancy after an unsuccessful bid for office a year before. He was reelected in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2001.

In November, Huntington Park Councilwoman Linda Luz Guevara was sentenced to 180 days in jail and five years' probation after her conviction for falsely stating her residence. A former candidate, Katrina Jackson, entered a no-contest plea in July to charges that she had lied about her residency to qualify for the South Gate ballot.

Last February, Richard Mayer, another former South Gate City Council candidate, was sentenced to six months in county jail after his conviction on similar charges.

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