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Prosecution in Alarcon fraud trial focuses on activity at two homes

Prosecution in Alarcon fraud trial focuses on activity at two homes
Former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, confer during their trial for perjury and voter fraud. The prosecution called its last witnesses on Friday. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

With its last witnesses Friday, the prosecution in the perjury and voter fraud trial of former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon focused on what was happening at two homes owned by Alarcon and his wife in the final months before they were served with search warrants in January 2010.

Alarcon and his wife have been accused of lying about where they lived between 2006 and 2009 so Alarcon could run to represent the 7th Council District. Prosecutors allege Alarcon actually lived in Sun Valley, outside the 7th District borders, but falsely claimed he lived in his district in Panorama City. The trial began late last month.

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On the stand, Los Angeles police Officer Garo Garabedian described arresting a burglar in the Panorama City home in October 2009. The prosecution suggested the suspect wasn't worried about getting caught because the Alarcons were rarely at that home.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Michele Gilmer pointed out that the apparent squatter, Lawrence Payton, had enough time to change the house's locks. She also mentioned that Garabedian didn't see fresh food, toys, baby clothes or animals in the home, implying the Alarcons' daughter born in 2008 did not spend time there.

Alarcon's lawyer, Richard Lasting, suggested the squatter was just mentally unstable.

Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, together face more than 20 felony counts stemming from allegedly lying about their residence in campaign, voter registration and Department of Motor Vehicles documents between 2006 and 2009. If convicted, Alarcon could face five years in state prison and his wife four.

The Alarcons have said they were renovating the Panorama City home and therefore were not always there. They say they planned to eventually return, so it was their permanent residence. In the past, Alarcon has said he stopped living in the Panorama City home after the October 2009 break-in only because he feared for his family's safety.

Prosecutors sought to undercut that claim by calling district attorney investigator Dave Babcock as one of their final witnesses. Babcock was assigned in April 2009 to investigate where Alarcon lived.

Babcock said he visited the Panorama City home nearly 50 times over the course of more than a year, and came to believe no one lived there. He said he saw Alarcon there only once — on the day of the October 2009 break-in. He said he never saw children or animals there, and that the house occasionally had graffiti and was overgrown with weeds. He said he often saw Alarcon's city vehicle parked at the home in Sun Valley, and also spotted the couple and a few Chihuahuas at that house.

The Alarcons' defense attorneys said people other than the Alarcons lived in the Sun Valley home, so the dogs didn't mean the Alarcons were there regularly. They also pointed out that Babcock spent less than 24 hours total observing the Panorama City home.

The jury Friday also saw evidence from January 2010, when the search warrants were served. In photos and a video, the Sun Valley home was shown to have the Alarcons' wedding photos on display, bathrooms stocked with toiletries, a children's room and a walk-in closet filled with clothes. Another D.A. investigator testified that he discovered the Alarcons when he went there around 7:30 a.m. to search the house.

Photos from a search performed at the same time show the Panorama City home had very few food items in the cabinets, stoves that didn't turn on and spider webs. D.A. investigator Cruz Ruelas testified that in that home's refrigerator he found moldy orange juice, old milk, old beer and an egg carton. The prosecution called in an expert Friday who testified that those eggs had been packaged almost a year before.

Referring to photos of the home, defense lawyer Lasting pointed to a wheelbarrow, tools, paint cans, insulation, a level and molding that he said were used for renovation. He also emphasized a photo of a room with a bed frame and a colorful foam mat with letters on it, suggesting it was intended for a child.

The Alarcons' attorneys will begin calling witnesses Monday. They expect to take two days to build their case.

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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