Richard Alarcon, a prominent figure in Los Angeles politics for more than two decades and a vocal advocate for his San Fernando Valley constituents, was convicted Wednesday of felony perjury and voter fraud for lying about where he lived to advance his political career.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury concluded that Alarcon and his wife falsely claimed residency in Panorama City when they actually lived several miles away in Sun Valley, in what prosecutors said was a scheme that allowed him to run for a City Council seat in 2009.
The verdict was the latest in a series of troubles for the Alarcon family, who had aspirations of creating a political dynasty.
After questions about his residency first surfaced, Alarcon lost a bid for state Assembly in 2012. Then his daughter Andrea, a rising City Hall star, resigned her city commission post after being investigated on suspicion of endangerment for leaving her young daughter unattended at a city function. Finally, also convicted Wednesday in the residency case was his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon.
Now, the couple face the prospect of state prison; Alarcon up to six years, his wife up to five. As the verdicts were read, the couple sat stoically. Andrea Alarcon softly wept.
City Hall colleagues expressed dismay that Alarcon’s career appears to be ending in ignominy: If upheld, a felony conviction means he can no longer seek public office. His time at City Hall dated back to the administration of Mayor Tom Bradley, who tapped him to deal with San Fernando Valley issues. He went on to serve the area as a councilman, an assemblyman and a state senator.
“I’m just sad — sad for him and his family,” veteran City Councilman Tom LaBonge said. “But the court made its determination. Mr. Alarcon was the star of the Valley, and now his star has been dimmed.”
Alarcon is the second prominent Los Angeles-area politician to recently be convicted of lying about his place of residence; in January, state Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) was found guilty of eight charges related to his run for Senate, an office he first won in 2008.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, said the Alarcon jury sent a clear message to politicians: “Follow the rules.”
“I think the rules are pretty simple,” said Englander. “They say to live in your district.”
Alarcon allies had a different take, saying the trial never should have happened. Political consultant Robert Winn, who lives in the northeast San Fernando Valley, said the former councilman was renovating his home and living in a backup residence that was a short distance from his district. That makes it profoundly different from the corruption cases filed against state Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, he said.
“If the guy had stolen money or was [accused] of malfeasance in office, I can see a trial,” said Winn, who has known him since Alarcon was a teenager. “But this guy has given nothing but solid representation to his community and his constituents.”
The Alarcons were accused of claiming to live in a Panorama City house that was under repair when they actually lived in a larger, nicer home in Sun Valley, outside his district.
State and city election laws require candidates to live in the district they seek to represent.
The 60-year-old politician was convicted of three voter-fraud charges and one perjury charge, but acquitted on 12 other counts. His wife, 49, was convicted of two voting charges and one perjury count but acquitted on two others.
During the trial, defense attorneys tried to convince the jury that the Alarcons were renovating the Panorama City home and planned to return to it, and so it qualified as their permanent residence.
California law defines residence for voting purposes as a “domicile,” a place where one intends to remain and return after an absence. But some jurors said they weren’t convinced that the Alarcons really intended to live in Panorama City.
“He hasn’t gotten this far because he’s naive,” juror James Mandujano said after the verdicts. Mandujano, a truck driver from Whittier, said it was clear Alarcon had “political gain” from saying he lived in Panorama City.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Michele Gilmer presented evidence suggesting that the Alarcons didn’t plan to return to the Panorama City home, including blueprints from 2007 to develop the home into a residential complex. The jury also heard former City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel testify that Alarcon once asked that she agree to move her 2nd District boundary so his Sun Valley home would be in his 7th District.
Mandujano and another juror, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said there were a few panel members who initially wanted to find the Alarcons innocent on all counts, and that there was much arguing over the five days of deliberations. But the jurors were swayed by evidence that for years there was no utility usage at the house. That showed, they said, that the Alarcons definitely weren’t there from April 2007 to February 2009, since no gas meant the Alarcons couldn’t cook, heat their home or take hot showers.
Mandujano said it was hard to believe the Alarcons would move from their big home in Sun Valley to the neglected home in Panorama City. “There’s no way you’re going to move from a custom-made house to a two-bedroom,” he said. He said the verdict came down to common sense.
The Alarcons are scheduled to be sentenced by Superior Court Judge George Lomeli on Sept. 10. They say they intend to appeal.