Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife will face trial on 23 felony counts of perjury and voter fraud after a judge Tuesday found "more than substantial" evidence that the couple lied about where they were living so he could run for office.
Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar de Longoria, citing "compelling and quite telling" photographs of the Alarcons' home at 14451 Nordhoff St. in Panorama City, found that the residence was not livable and didn't show major repairs "that were reportedly done over an extensive period of time."
Prosecutors contend the couple was actually living in a Sun Valley residence, outside the 7th District boundaries, when Richard Alarcon filed candidacy papers in 2006 and 2008 so he could run for City Council. Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, also lied on DMV and voter documents, according to the charges filed by attorneys with the district attorney's Public Integrity Division.
The Alarcons, who have denied any wrongdoing, are next due in court Oct. 18 for arraignment. Alarcon faces 17 counts and his wife, six.
The 10-day preliminary hearing concluded only weeks before the Nov. 6 election in which the councilman is seeking the 39th Assembly District seat in a tough battle with fellow Democrat Raul Bocanegra. Alarcon cannot run for reelection to the City Council because of term limits.
In a small victory for the veteran San Fernando Valley lawmaker, Villar de Longoria on Tuesday threw out one count of filing a false declaration after defense attorney Mark Overland pointed out that the form didn't apply to a charter city. Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder said the dismissal would not affect the case going forward.
"I'm very confident the law is on our side," she said outside the courtroom. State and local codes don't allow someone to "pick and choose the truths you want to tell."
Defense attorneys argued that the Alarcons lived in Panorama City but had moved out temporarily to do renovations to the rust-colored ranch-style home. That distinction is important to their argument that the couple was legally "domiciled" in the Nordhoff Street house because they intended to return there.
"He had the good fortune of somewhere else to stay while he was renovating his domicile," Richard Alarcon's attorney, Richard Lasting, told the judge Tuesday. The couple shouldn't be punished because it took them too long to complete their renovations, he said.
But Villar de Longoria wasn't convinced. Those arguments are now "jury issues," she said.
Alarcon, standing with his wife and attorneys, said he was disappointed but ready to face trial. The pending charges complicate his campaign, he said, but he thinks most voters come election day "will adhere to the principle of innocent until proven guilty."
Raphael Sonenshein, a political analyst at the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said Alarcon normally would have the advantage as the Democrat in a Democratic-leaning district. But the open primary produced a general election with two Democrats and that could hurt Alarcon. Alarcon finished nearly 10% behind Bocanegra in the June primary.
"He's by no means going to have an easy election. He didn't get the decision he wanted," Sonenshein said. "But he's well known to voters — much more well known than his opponent, and I don't think this is conclusive."
Over the 10-day preliminary hearing, Lentz Snyder put on more than a dozen witnesses who testified that that it appeared the Nordhoff Street house was unoccupied. Weeds grew knee high, papers piled up and utility records recorded little usage of water and power for long periods between late 2007 and January 2010, when investigators served warrants to search the home.
Defense attorneys produced Home Depot records that showed Alarcon opened an account and was making purchases after May 2007, although the district attorney's chief investigator in the case, David Babcock, said the documents don't specify for which residence the purchases were made.
Among those testifying for the defense was a scheduler in Alarcon's office who said she frequently dropped off papers for the councilman at the Nordhoff Street house and attended parties there. Alarcon's cousin, John De La Rosa, also took the stand and testified that he saw the couple at the house and ate meals with them.
But Villar de Longoria said she didn't find either witness credible.