Victorino Noval and his family are enthusiastic supporters of Alan Jackson's bid to become Los Angeles County's next district attorney.
The self-styled philanthropist has given $3,000, the legal maximum, to Jackson's election campaign. His three adult sons have donated thousands of dollars, with one son giving $100,000 to the California Republican Party a day before the party spent nearly $80,000 on voter mailers championing the prosecutor.
Posted on a Facebook page for Noval's foundation are photographs of a fundraiser Noval says he held for Jackson at his Beverly Hills mansion earlier this year, with guests mingling as a mariachi band played.
The photos of a beaming Jackson standing with Noval capture what would be an ordinary scene of a donor hobnobbing with a district attorney candidate except for one issue: Noval is a felon.
Noval pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion in connection with a multimillion-dollar mortgage scheme that made headlines in the late 1990s and was sentenced to federal prison in 2003. He later changed his name from Victor Jesus to Victorino.
Jackson and his campaign said they did not know about Noval's criminal history and that it is all but impossible to do criminal background checks on every donor. After inquiries from The Times, Jackson's campaign said this week that it is returning the money to Noval.
There are conflicting stories as to how the family ended up contributing to the stateRepublican Party. A GOP spokesman said there was no connection between the family's $100,000 contribution and the party's decision to back Jackson and spend money on the mailers. An agreement between the family and the party to spend the donation on the mailer would violate state campaign laws if it was not properly disclosed.
In an interview with The Times, Noval said he became involved in the 1990s mortgage scheme, which involved government-insured loans, after receiving assurances from a friend at the FBI that what he intended to do was legal. Nevertheless, he said, he took responsibility for his actions and has tried to make amends since his release.
Noval, 51, is listed on state business records as the chief executive officer for the Victorino Noval Foundation and has helped raise more than 1,000 toys for local foster children and contributed thousands of dollars to the union that represents Beverly Hills firefighters. The foundation is not a registered charity, and Noval said it does not raise donations but instead uses money from his late father's multimillion-dollar estate.
Noval said he met Jackson, a veteran prosecutor, at a fundraiser. He liked the candidate's forthright manner, he said, and was impressed that he had won a conviction in the high-profile murder trial of music producer Phil Spector. Noval said he did not mention his conviction to the candidate.
Noval, his girlfriend, his adult sons and another woman listed on campaign donation statements as an assistant to Noval's foundation contributed a total of $15,000 to Jackson's campaign.
Noval said he invited friends and neighbors to meet Jackson for a fundraiser earlier this year at his $6.1-million home in Beverly Hills. Photographs posted on the foundation's Facebook page described the event as a "fundraiser for Los Angeles' future DA Alan Jackson." Noval said about 100 guests attended.
But Jackson's campaign strategist, John Thomas, said the event was a Cinco de Mayo party, not a fundraiser, and that the campaign had no record of having raised money there.
"All I can think of is that this donor is trying to sound like a big shot to his friends," Thomas said.
Jeff Hyland, a partner in the real estate firm Hilton & Hyland, who attended the gathering, said he had met Jackson in the home's kitchen but did not recall seeing any campaign materials or hearing any speeches. "I know a political event when I see one," he said. "It was just a party."
Hyland later contributed $1,500, according to campaign finance records filed by Jackson's campaign.
Noval's event was held before the June 5 primary, in which Jackson was running against five other candidates.
On May 26, the state Republican Party held a special telephone meeting of its board members to endorse Jackson, a registered Republican. Four days later, the party reported a $100,000 contribution from Noval's 25-year-old son, Victor Franco Noval, according to state campaign finance records. The next day, the records show, the party paid $78,375 for voter mailers sent to its members touting Jackson for district attorney.
Jackson went on to narrowly win a place in the runoff, edging out City Atty. Carmen Trutanich by 1 1/2 percentage points to face Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey in next month's general election.
Victor Franco Noval could not be reached for comment, but Victorino Noval said he and his sons decided to donate to the state Republican Party in honor of his late father, also named Victorino. Noval said the contribution had nothing to do with Jackson and that he didn't know the candidate was a Republican. He said the idea for the donation came during a family meeting where he and his son discussed politics.
A party spokesman, however, said Jackson's campaign provided the party with the names of several donors, including Noval, soon after the party endorsed Jackson. That same weekend, the party contacted Victorino Noval about making a contribution, state GOP spokesman Mark Standriff said. On the following Monday, the party ordered the mailers, he said.
Standriff said the Noval donation would have been used for a variety of purposes, including member communications, such as the Jackson mailer, but that there was no agreement to earmark the funds specifically for that purpose.
Thomas, Jackson's political strategist, said he did not recall providing the party with names of donors and had no knowledge of the mailer until it showed up in his mailbox. He also said that Noval's contributions would not have won him any favors from Jackson.
"Because a donor decides to support a candidate doesn't mean the candidate is endorsing the donor or the donor's life conduct," he said. "Somebody who contributes to Alan Jackson's campaign for district attorney will not receive any kind of special treatment."