Montebello school board member Hector Chacon said he was at his parents’ home sorting through some paperwork this year when he noticed a letter addressed to him. It was from a drug and alcohol rehab center and confirmed his enrollment in a program for first-time DUI offenders.
Chacon said he was puzzled because he didn’t have a DUI and began investigating.
He discovered he was the victim of an elaborate identity theft: Someone had used his name and birth date when the person was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. The ruse continued when the man pleaded no contest to the charges and enrolled in the rehabilitation program, according to court records. This same person had also vandalized the Whittier city jail after the 2011 arrest.
But the real twist came when officials determined the culprit was Chacon’s older brother Arturo Chacon, 48, an elected board member on the Central Basin Municipal Water District, according to court records.
For reasons that are still not fully clear, neither police, prosecutors nor court officials figured out he was using his brother’s name until Hector Chacon, 46, came forward nearly two years after the arrest.
“It’s stunning he could pose as his brother so long,” said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors said Hector Chacon was fortunate in one respect: His brother had acquired at least two bench warrants, and Hector could have been arrested during a routine traffic stop.
“There could have been a scenario where he could have been arrested based on false information,” said Stefana Antonescu, an L.A. County deputy district attorney who handled Hector Chacon’s hearing to clear his name. “I can’t imagine that. If my brother had done that to me, I’d be none too thrilled.”
Antonescu said prosecutors agreed to clear Hector Chacon’s name at the hearing but never considered charging his brother for his deception at that time.
“Our only concern was the innocent party in court,” she said.
Robison declined to comment on whether prosecutors might charge Arturo Chacon.
The two Chacons are part of a political dynasty in a corner of Southeast L.A. County known for hard-knocks politics. At one point three brothers served as elected leaders, including a councilman in the City of Commerce. Members of the family, including a sister and another brother, have also run campaigns, making them go-to people for some politicians and would-be politicians.
Arturo Chacon did not return calls seeking comment. He is one of five board members on a public agency that has been roiled as part of an FBI investigation of state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello). The investigation also involves the senator’s brother Tom Calderon, a former assemblyman who had been an influential consultant for Central Basin for years.
Hector Chacon said that his main focus had been clearing his name and that he holds no ill will toward his brother.
“The most important thing was to get the court order because obviously I did not get convicted of a DUI, even though the paperwork said I did,” he said. “My feelings for my brother have not changed. I love all my brothers.”
The case began with Arturo Chacon’s arrest in Whittier on April 8, 2011.
“He was asleep behind the wheel in the middle of the road” on Mar Vista Street, Whittier police Officer Brad White said. He was taken into custody, and would have been digitally fingerprinted and photographed, White said. He gave his name as Hector Chacon, police said.
While in the Whittier jail, Arturo Chacon also did damage to his cell by etching on a wall, White said. Hector Chacon was charged with that too.
In the misdemeanor complaint, the defendant is listed as Hector Chacon, with the Montebello politician’s birth date. Under that: “aka Arturo Chacon.”
Some other documents also contained Arturo Chacon’s own name, usually as a signature or as an initial, though rarely if ever under the listing of defendant.
Arturo Chacon pleaded no contest to the DUI charges — under the name of Hector Chacon — on Sept. 7, 2011, according to court records. He was fined and got three years’ probation.
On April 29 of this year, Hector Chacon went to court with his attorney to ask a judge to set aside his wrongful conviction and dismiss the case.
His attorney, Karine Basmadjian, wrote in court papers that Hector Chacon only recently learned that his brother “had provided” his information to police when he was arrested.
“It is remarkable how an offender went through an arrest, booking, court proceedings with an eventual conviction, and subsequent enrollment in a post conviction program under the name of another person,” Basmadjian wrote in her motion.
In a declaration, Hector Chacon added: “I have not allowed my brother, or anyone, to use my name or identity for any purpose, much less for getting criminal convictions.”
Chacon said in the court papers that he came across the ruse purely by accident. His brother used their parents’ address for mail, and he just happened to see the letter from the rehab center.
A judge refused to dismiss the case but agreed to correct the court and arrest records to reflect that Arturo Chacon was the real defendant.
Robison, the L.A. County district attorney’s office spokeswoman, said Arturo Chacon’s probation ended in September.
She said that despite the judge’s order clearing his brother, Hector Chacon’s name still pops up when she pulls up the DUI case on the D.A.'s computer system.
According to court and L.A. County Sheriff’s Department records, Arturo Chacon was again arrested for driving under the influence Aug. 29 at 11:55 p.m. in East Los Angeles and ordered to appear in a Downey courtroom. But Robison said no case appears related to that arrest, so it seems he was never charged.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School specializing in election law and governance issues who was appointed to the L.A. Ethics Commission, said although the DUI arrest itself may not reflect on Arturo Chacon’s ability to do his job as a public official, using his brother’s identity raises serious questions.
“What you’re doing is creating a narrative that’s very troubling while representing an agency that’s already tainted by corruption issues,” she said.
As for Hector Chacon, he said he’s trying to put the episode behind him.
“Was I happy about it? Come on,” he said. “My only focus was to clear my name, which I did. I left it at that.”