Rodriguez won't have to defend himself against conflict-of-interest complaint — for now

Rodriguez won't have to defend himself against conflict-of-interest complaint — for now
L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez won't have to confront a conflict-of-interest complaint for now and can focus instead on contesting campaign money-laundering charges. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

State regulators have, for now, closed a conflict-of-interest complaint against Los Angeles school board member Ref Rodriguez.

The decision does not exonerate Rodriguez or free him from the issue indefinitely. It has more to do with how cases are handled by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.


"In light of Mr. Rodriguez's criminal indictment in Los Angeles County, the commission is closing this matter without prejudice," Galena West of the FPPC's enforcement division wrote in a letter Friday.

In the conflict complaint, the charter school network Rodriguez co-founded alleged that he may have improperly authorized the transfer of $265,000 in school funds to a nonprofit that he ran.

An attorney working for Partnerships to Uplift Communities said that so far the charter network had found little to no evidence that services were provided to the schools in exchange for the funds.

The complaint noted that there may be an additional conflict regarding $20,400. That payment was made by Rodriguez, using PUC Schools money, to a private fundraising firm in which he might have had an ownership interest.

The letter closing the claim was addressed to Jim Sutton, an election-law attorney who is representing Rodriguez. The board member also has a criminal defense attorney.

PUC Schools has alerted the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is expected to investigate the potential conflict of interest. The issue also could be examined by prosecutors if they determine that a crime may have been committed. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to comment about the matter.

At the very least, the FPPC decision means Rodriguez won't have to deal with an investigation by the commission while facing charges for alleged campaign-money laundering.

"Per policy, we won't open a case while there's a pending felony case," Jay Wierenga, communications director for the commission, said in an explanation provided in advance of the official letter.

The felony case has no apparent connection to the conflict-of-interest allegations.

In the criminal complaint, Rodriguez is accused of reimbursing 25 campaign donors with nearly $25,000 of his own money during his successful 2015 run for the school board.

Rodriguez potentially faces more than four years in jail if convicted of three felony counts and 25 misdemeanors, one for each illegal contribution. Prosecutors contend that Rodriguez's actions prevented voters and the public from knowing the true source of support for his campaign.

Rodriguez is due to appear in court Tuesday.

After being charged in September, he resigned as school board president but retained his L.A. Unified seat. Rodriguez is part of a 4-3 majority supported by charter school advocates.

Earlier this week, Rodriguez told The Times he would not be able to comment on either the criminal case or the conflict filing.