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California

D.A. declines to pursue fraud case over L.A. Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s fundraising

Councilwoman Nury Martinez
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez at a June council meeting.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s office has ended its investigation into L.A. City Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s 2015 campaign, determining there is insufficient evidence to pursue a fraud case centering on her fundraising activities.

Alan Yochelson, head deputy of the district attorney’s Public Integrity Division, said in a memo Friday that prosecutors had received an allegation that Martinez’s campaign had engaged in fraud when it secured more than $65,000 in city taxpayer matching funds for her reelection bid. To qualify for that money, the campaign relied on “numerous” small donations — many of them just $5 — from residents of her district, the memo said.

“While our investigation proved that some of the $5 donations were not made by the purported donor, the evidence was insufficient to prove who was ultimately responsible,” Yochelson wrote.

Yochelson declined an interview request. A spokesman for Lacey declined to say how many people had been incorrectly listed as donors on Martinez’s filings with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

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Martinez, in an emailed statement, said she was “pleased” with the district attorney’s decision. “We pride ourselves on adhering to the strictest ethical standards, and we have honored that commitment,” she said.

Martinez, who represents District 6 in the San Fernando Valley that includes Van Nuys, Lake Balboa, Arleta, Sun Valley and Panorama City, was first elected in a special election in 2013. She won reelection two years later.

Matching funds made up nearly a fifth of the money raised by Martinez for her 2015 reelection bid. Under the city’s election rules, Martinez needed to collect at least 200 donations of $5 or more from residents living within her district to qualify for those funds.

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The district attorney’s decision comes roughly a year after The Times reported that current and former Martinez staffers, along with some of her $5 donors, had been called to appear before a county grand jury in June 2018.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nuri Martinez
L.A. City Councilwoman Nuri Martinez talks with constituents at Lincoln High School before Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his annual State of the City address in April.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Yochelson said in his memo that investigators found no evidence linking the “discrepancies” in the campaign contributions to Martinez, former chief of staff Jim Dantona or Martinez’s husband, Gerardo Guzman, a political consultant who “effectively” served as her campaign manager.

“In a criminal case, the prosecution bears the burden of proving each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt,” he wrote. “Here, although our investigation showed discrepancies in the donor reports, we are unable to determine whether they are the result of fraud or simply poor record keeping.”

The district attorney’s investigation was one of two that focused on Martinez’s fundraising activities. In 2016, The Times reported that FBI agents had interviewed several Martinez contributors, some of whom were summoned before a federal grand jury.

Several people told The Times that they had not made those donations to Martinez, even though they were listed in Ethics Commission records as having done so. One of them, a janitor living in Sun Valley, said she, her husband, her son and her daughter were incorrectly listed as having given $5 donations to Martinez campaign.

Another person who was listed as a Martinez contributor told The Times that he learned he had purportedly given $10 to Martinez’s campaign when FBI agents showed up at his door. He said he later discovered that his daughter had named him, his wife and another daughter as campaign donors without their knowledge.

Several of the people who collected Martinez’s $5 and $10 donations were low-level staffers, The Times reported. Among the people listed as giving the smaller donations were 18 relatives of a single Martinez aide.

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The Los Angeles City Charter prohibits campaign donors from giving on behalf of another person without that person’s knowledge and participation.

Dantona, who left Martinez’s office in December, said in an interview Friday that he was unaware of the district attorney’s memo.

“I don’t think we ever did anything wrong,” said Dantona, who helped manage Martinez’s 2015 campaign. “So I always had a question as to why the investigation was even initiated.”

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said she could not discuss whether her agency is looking at Martinez’s contributions. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office had no comment.


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