After a trial spanning nearly a month, the perjury and voter fraud case against former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife headed to the jury on Thursday.
The panel of seven women and five men will now determine whether Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, are guilty of lying about where they lived between 2006 and 2009 so that the politician could qualify for office.
The couple have been accused of falsely claiming they lived in Panorama City so that Alarcon could run in 2007 and 2009 to represent the 7th Council District, which he did until last year. Prosecutors say Alarcon really lived outside the district in Sun Valley. The City Charter requires that candidates reside in the district they seek to represent.
Together, the Alarcons face 21 felony counts stemming from charges of lying about their residence in campaign, voter registration and Department of Motor Vehicles documents between 2006 and 2009. If convicted, Alarcon could face five years in state prison and his wife could face four years.
In her closing statement, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Michele Gilmer implored the jury to hold the couple accountable for “telling the same lie over and over again."
State election law defines residence for voting purposes as “domicile,” a permanent home where one intends to remain and return after an absence. Since the law doesn’t lay out how much time you must spend at a place for it to be your domicile, both sides focused their closing arguments on the Alarcons’ intent to return to that home.
Throughout the trial, the Alarcons’ attorneys have said the couple didn’t spend every day between 2006 and 2009 at the Panorama City home. They say they were renovating the house and that it remained their permanent residence because they planned to return once construction ended.
“You can be absent for a year, for two, for three, for four,” said Mark Overland, attorney for Montes de Oca Alarcon. “You intend to come back, that’s still your domicile.”
Defense attorneys said the case is based on the prosecution thinking the renovations took too long. They’ve called witnesses who testified to doing renovations at the house and another who said she saw Alarcon himself tiling a bathroom and putting up window blinds.
In his closing statement, Alarcon’s attorney Richard Lasting brought up the testimony of Aza Zapasov, who testified that the Alarcons came to her day-care center next door to their Panorama City home in June 2009 and asked about enrolling their young daughter, who was not yet old enough to attend the school. Lasting said they inquired because they planned to return to the Panorama City home.
Gilmer, the prosecutor, argued that the Alarcons did not intend to return to the property. She reminded the jury about blueprints from 2007 for an apartment complex the Alarcons had considered for the Panorama City property.
“If you’re developing the property you’re not intending to remain,” she said.
She also talked about the testimony of former Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who testified that Alarcon had once asked her to adjust the council district boundaries so the Sun Valley home -- then in the 2nd District that Greuel represented -- could be included in the 7th.
“It shows he had full knowledge of the law that he has to live in the district he represents,” Gilmer said. She said Alarcon wanted to work something out with Greuel so he could live with his then-fiancee in Sun Valley.
At this moment in Gilmer’s closing arguments, Alarcon -- who had pushed his chair back so he could turn toward Gilmer to watch her address the jury -- scrunched up his face and shook his head slightly. His wife stared straight ahead.
The Alarcons have attended the trial every day and sat next to each other, flanked on either side by their attorneys. During the two days of closing arguments, Andrea Alarcon, the former councilman’s daughter and herself a former city official, attended as well.
Gilmer said Wednesday that the prosecution’s evidence -- including testimony from neighbors, utility company workers and district attorney investigators -- overwhelmingly shows the Panarama City house was vacant.
Among the witnesses she called over 11 days of testimony were neighbors who said the house looked abandoned; a police officer who said a burglar who had moved into the Panorama City home had enough time to change the locks; and utility workers who said there was no gas used in the house between April 2007 and February 2009, without which the Alarcons couldn’t cook, heat their home or take hot showers.
Overland said it was “flabbergasting” that the prosecution relied on an investigator’s surveillance of the Panorama City house to gauge what was going on there.
Lasting pointed out Alarcon’s schedule as a councilman often had events starting as early as 7 a.m. and ending as late as 10 p.m.
Overland emphasized it didn’t matter if the Alarcons were never there in that time period because it remained their domicile because they planned to return.
“That to me shows a total misunderstanding of what this case is about, a total misunderstanding of the law,” Overland said.
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