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Compton city councilman charged with election rigging, bribery in race decided by one vote

Compton City Councilman Isaac Galvan in the downtown Los Angeles criminal courts building
Compton City Councilman Isaac Galvan appeared in the downtown Los Angeles criminal courts building, where he was arraigned for conspiring to commit election fraud.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A Compton city councilman was arrested Friday morning and charged with conspiring to rig votes to secure his victory in an election he won earlier this year by just one ballot, officials said.

Isaac Galvan, 34, was one of six people charged Friday with conspiracy to commit election fraud, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors allege Galvan conspired with Jace Dawson, one of his opponents in an April primary for Galvan’s council seat, to direct voters from outside the council district to cast ballots for Galvan in a June runoff, the complaint states.

At least three improper ballots were counted in the runoff election, ultimately swinging the race, according to the complaint. Galvan raked in 855 votes while Andre Spicer, a Compton native and entrepreneur, tallied 854 ballots in a June runoff election, records show.

Prosecutors also charged Dawson, Kimberly Chaouch, Toni Sanae Morris, Barry Kirk Reed and Reginald Orlando Streeter with two counts each of conspiracy to commit election fraud. Chaouch, Morris, Reed and Streeter all voted in the primary or runoff for the Compton City Council’s second district, despite not living there.

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Galvan and Dawson were arrested Friday by members of the district attorney’s bureau of investigations and led into a downtown courtroom in handcuffs. Both men pleaded not guilty and were released on their own recognizance.

Their attorneys declined to comment. Another hearing is scheduled for Sept. 17. The other four defendants were not arrested, and it was not immediately clear when they would appear in court.

Galvan, who was first elected in 2013 and describes himself as the city’s youngest and first Latino councilman, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit election fraud and one count of bribery. According to the complaint, Galvan made “an attempt to fraudulently influence the results of the election” when he tried to bribe an employee of the registrar’s office with concert tickets.

“Elections are the cornerstone of our democratic nation. We must do everything in our power to protect the integrity of the electorate process and to ensure that elections are free and fair,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a statement.

Both the employee Galvan allegedly tried to bribe and an election observer immediately reported the incident, according to Dean Logan, the county’s top elections official. In a statement issued Friday, Logan also said he had referred a case of “alleged fraudulent activity” involving Compton’s municipal election to the D.A.’s office on June 9.

In the wake of widespread, largely baseless, claims of fraud involving mail-in voting during the 2020 presidential election, Logan said Friday’s news should serve as proof that voting officials are adept at catching manipulations at the ballot box.

“These charges and the activities alleged in this case are serious and strike at a time when public confidence in our electoral process is in decline and misinformation about the security of voting is rampant,” Logan said. “At the same time, our referral and the District Attorney’s subsequent investigation and charges demonstrate that attempts to perpetrate fraud on the voting process are trackable and will be prosecuted.”

Friday’s arrests mark at least the second time L.A. County prosecutors have uncovered an attempt to manipulate mail-in voting during the 2020 election cycle. In November, two men were charged with attempting to register nearly 8,000 “fictitious, nonexistent or deceased” voters to receive mail-in ballots for the Hawthorne mayoral election. Ultimately, none of those ballots were tallied in the general election.

Spicer said he suspected fraud early in the race, accusing Galvan of offering to buy people groceries or giving them gifts in exchange for votes. Aware that voter turnout is often low in Compton, Spicer said he feared Galvan could influence the outcome of the race if he swung a few dozen ballots by nefarious means.

Spicer said his concerns were validated on June 7 when Chaouch, a former volunteer for Dawson’s campaign, reached out to his staff and told them she had “committed voter fraud.”

“They asked her what do you mean? And she said ... she registered to vote from his house and she knows about 20 other people who did the same thing,” he alleged.

According to Spicer, Chaouch said she’d been hired by Galvan’s campaign during the runoff. But they failed to pay her, so she decided to speak out, Spicer said.

Spicer called for a recount, which was conducted in July. During that process, he said he did not see his own ballot or his mother’s among those tallied. He also claimed he saw Chaouch’s ballot during the recount, with Dawson’s home address listed as her own.

“I can take a loss, but I can’t take being cheated. I don’t like what that does for democracy. It contradicts what I advocate for,” Spicer said. “To hear this happening. I don’t even have the words.”

Voting records, however, dispute Spicer’s claim, according to the registrar’s office. Through a spokesman, Logan said both Spicer and his mother voted by mail in the primary and runoff elections for Galvan’s seat. Logan also said his office based its referral for investigation to the district attorney’s office “on irregular voter registration activity and information received from voters and observers during the election,” and before the recount.

Chaouch wrote a letter to the district attorney’s office laying out her role in the alleged fraud, according to Spicer, who did not provide a copy of the letter. A spokesman for the district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Attempts to contact Chaouch, Morris, Reed and Streeter for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

The raid comes amid allegations in a lawsuit that cannabis businesses complained of paying thousands of dollars in cash to Baldwin Park officials.

Galvan’s name has been linked to multiple corruption scandals in recent months.

Last November, federal investigators served a search warrant at his home as part of an investigation into marijuana licensing practices in Baldwin Park, sources told The Times. The search came months after a former Baldwin Park police officer signed a sworn statement that he’d received complaints from three cannabis dispensary operators alleging “questionable business practices, which included paying as much as $250,000 cash in a brown paper bag to city officials.”

Galvan was also subpoenaed to testify in grand jury proceedings that ultimately led prosecutors to bring corruption and bribery charges against former Maywood Mayor Ramon Medina and nine others earlier this year, according to an official familiar with the investigation. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter candidly.

Galvan invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination during those proceedings and refused to answer questions, the official said.

Dawson, who finished dead last in the April primary, also came under scrutiny during election season after well-known L.A. activist Jasmyne Cannick began to question his qualifications, alleging he’d lied about living in the city, holding a doctoral degree and having connections to the administration of former President Obama.

“The people of Compton have enough problems without having their elected members and other imposters in the community trying to take advantage of their vote,” Cannick said Friday. “And that’s what Jace did, he went around telling people he worked for President Barack Obama …. and a congressman who had been dead as long as [Dawson] had been alive. And none of it was true. None of it.”

During the primary election, Chaouch, Reed and Streeter all registered to vote at Dawson’s Compton address and then cast ballots for him in the race, according to the complaint. Chaouch, Morris and Streeter are also accused of casting ballots for Galvan in the June runoff, despite not living in Compton, the complaint alleges.

Galvan began to talk to Dawson about working together in April, according to text messages described in the complaint.

“After the election maybe I can bring you on board to help me out,” Galvan wrote to Dawson.

On May 25, Dawson was approved for a job as a city liaison by a 3-1 City Council vote, according to the complaint. Galvan voted in favor, while then-Compton Mayor Aja Brown opposed, calling Dawson’s appointment “laughable,” according to court records.

For weeks, Dawson and Galvan repeatedly texted about getting ballots signed for the runoff election. On one occasion, Dawson told the councilman that he knew of a woman who would cast a ballot for Galvan even though she lived in Long Beach, because she was still registered to vote in Compton.

Cannick said she hopes that Los Angeles County authorities will continue to probe election irregularities in small cities where races are often determined by a few hundred votes.

“Hopefully, what happened today will send a message to other people who engage in voter fraud,” she said. “Particularly in these southeast cities, they have enough corruption, they have enough problems already without the people that they put their trust and faith in to participate in or actively engage in taking advantage of them.”


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