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California

D.A. drops perjury, voter fraud case against former L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - JAN. 20, 2016. The conviction of former L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon on cha
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon in 2016, the year his conviction on perjury and voter fraud charges was overturned.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Lawyers in Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s office said Thursday they will not retry their perjury and voter fraud case against former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, bringing an abrupt end to a nine-year legal battle.

L.A. County prosecutors charged Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, in 2010, accusing the couple of lying about where they lived so that Alarcon could run for a council seat. The Alarcons maintained their innocence, saying they had moved out of their residence temporarily while it underwent a major renovation.

A jury found the Alarcons guilty of some of the charges in 2014. Their convictions were later thrown out by the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal, which said the judge had issued improper jury instructions.

Thursday’s decision represented a major reversal for Lacey’s office, which announced three years ago that prosecutors planned to retry the Alarcons. In a statement, Lacey’s office said that prosecutors still believe the evidence in the case “demonstrates the guilt of both defendants.”

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“However, given that both defendants satisfactorily completed their sentences, we recognize that the law precludes any additional punishment following a retrial,” the statement from the district attorney’s office said. “Therefore, we have made the decision to not seek a retrial of either defendant in the interest of justice.”

Alarcon, 65, had originally received a 120-day jail sentence but was placed instead on 51 days of house arrest. His wife received 400 hours of community service and no jail time.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Bjorn Dodd announced his office would not retry the couple at a hearing Thursday before Superior Court Judge George Lomeli, who then dismissed the case.

After the hearing, Alarcon said he felt “completely exonerated” in the wake of the prosecutors’ decision.

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“This case caused me and my family a lot of damage,” said Alarcon, who has served on the council and in the state Legislature. “So we’re pleased the case is over, and can recuperate with a normalcy in life that we haven’t seen for 10 years.”

Under the Los Angeles City Charter, candidates running for a council seat must reside in the district they seek to represent. Alarcon waged successful campaigns in 2007 and 2009 to represent the council’s 7th District in the San Fernando Valley, registering to vote in Panorama City.

PANRAMA CITY, CALIF. - MAY 08: People walk by the property that is at the heart of the Richard Alarc
Prosecutors accused former L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife of lying about where they lived. The house in Panorama City that was at the center of the case has been torn down and is slated to become an eight-home subdivision, Alarcon said.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Prosecutors alleged that during that period, Alarcon was actually residing in a larger, nicer home in nearby Sun Valley, outside his district. The Alarcons said they had been living elsewhere but planned to return to the house in Panorama City once home repairs were completed.

During the original trial, prosecutors showed the jury plans prepared in 2007 for replacing the Panorama City house with a nine-unit condominium complex. Utility workers told the jury there was no gas used in the house between April 2007 and February 2009, making it impossible to cook, heat the home or take hot showers.

The jury also heard from former City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who said Alarcon had called her and asked to move the Sun Valley house out of Greuel’s district and into his own.

The Alarcons’ attorneys said at the time that such redistricting requests are common. And they argued that the project took many years because Alarcon didn’t hire a contractor and was doing the repairs himself.

Alarcon was originally convicted of three charges of fraudulent voting and one charge of perjury, but he was acquitted on 12 other counts. His wife was convicted of two charges of fraudulent voting and one perjury count.

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Much has changed since the Alarcon case was filed nearly a decade ago.

The 1950 tract house on Nordhoff Street has been demolished; Alarcon’s wife and a business partner are redeveloping the property into an eight-home subdivision. Alarcon stepped down from the council in 2013 and said he has no interest in exploring elected office.

“There’s a lot of young talent out there that can carry the torch and fight for justice,” he said. “This particular case was a case of injustice, and I hope people will take note of the damage that can be caused without a conviction.”

Shortly after the Alarcon case was filed, another Southern California politician was charged in a similar case. Prosecutors said that then-state Sen. Roderick Wright made it appear he lived in Inglewood in order to run for a state Senate seat in 2008, but that his true residence, or “domicile,” was in Baldwin Hills.

Wright was convicted of perjury and voter fraud and pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018. That same year, Brown signed a bill easing the residency rules for state legislators and members of Congress in California.

The new law says that a legislator’s primary address is presumed to be the one listed on his or her voter registration — even another home is where the legislator’s child is enrolled in school, where his or her spouse lives for employment reasons or where the lawmaker rents, receives mail or pays for utilities.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidZahniser

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