Advertisement

Legislative investigation substantiates harassment claims against former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra

Legislative investigation substantiates harassment claims against former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra
Former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, speaks at the Capitol in Sacramento in May 2017. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Three months after Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment, an Assembly investigation has found the Pacoima Democrat likely engaged in "unwanted conduct" toward three subordinate employees while he worked as a legislative staffer.

The investigation's conclusions, released Wednesday, back up a number of allegations first reported by the Times in November, including claims that, as chief of staff to then-Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, Bocanegra commented on a younger staffer's appearance and asked her out on dates, and that he placed a subordinate's bracelet in his front pants pocket and asked her to retrieve it.

Advertisement

"Regarding this time period from when I was a staffer nearly 10 years, I can only say that I always intended to treat staff fairly and respectfully," Bocanegra said in a statement.

A separate probe found that Gerardo Guzman, who worked as district director to Fuentes and Bocanegra, also engaged in improper conduct, including discussing sex toys with female staffers. Guzman, who is married to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, was fired from his Assembly job last week as a result of the investigation.

"In terms of the allegations, I'm deeply regretful of the things that happened," Guzman said. "I hope to be the person who can make my wife and my daughter proud of me."

Guzman said the incidents happened before he quit drinking in 2015.

Bocanegra was the first California legislator to be stung by harassment allegations after an October open letter signed by more than 140 women alleged a "pervasive" culture of sexual misconduct and propelled the issue into the limelight.

A legislative staffer went public with a 2009 encounter in which she said Bocanegra, then working as Fuentes' chief of staff, reached his hands in her blouse and followed her in a manner she found menacing at an after-hours work event. Bocanegra was disciplined for the incident and told the Times the "unfortunate experience … was something I regret and learned from."

The Times later reported that six additional women alleged that Bocanegra had made unwanted sexual advances toward them. The allegations spanned several years, including when he was a chief of staff, a candidate and an assemblyman.

Bocanegra worked as Fuentes' chief of staff from 2007 until 2012. He won his first Assembly race in 2012, lost reelection in a surprise challenge in 2014 and won back his seat in 2016.

The Assembly investigation, conducted by an outside law firm, focused on allegations by three former Fuentes staffers — Jennifer Borobia, Gabriela Correa and Camille Pili-Jose. Borobia said Bocanegra repeatedly asked her out on dates while she worked as his subordinate. Pili-Jose said Bocanegra slid his hands across her stomach during a party at Guzman's house. At the same party, Correa said, Bocanegra took a bracelet of hers and told her to retrieve it from his pants pocket.

The investigation found that Bocanegra's conduct toward the three staffers violated the Assembly's policy against sexual harassment and the expectation expressed in the Assembly's personnel manual that employees "conduct themselves in a professional manner."

Bocanegra resigned in November after the harassment allegations. He denied wrongdoing at the time, but said the current political climate — which he called "a hurricane of political opportunism among the self-righteous" — prevented him from mounting a defense.

Despite requesting a formal investigation into the allegations, Bocanegra ultimately did not participate in the probe, according to a letter released by the Assembly Rules Committee.

Advertisement

The investigation into Guzman's behavior found that he was likely informed of Bocanegra's inappropriate conduct and did not report it to the Assembly's human resources department.

The report also stated that Guzman likely engaged in inappropriate behavior himself while working as Fuentes' district director. The alleged conduct included lying in bed next to a female employee, talking about and showing sex toys to female staffers, and stroking a female staffer's hair. He was also alleged to have directed a profanity at a female Assembly staffer, which he admitted, according to the report.

Guzman continued serving as district director for the 39th Assembly District after Bocanegra resigned on Nov. 27. The Assembly fired Guzman on Feb. 21 as a result of the investigation.

Martinez, Guzman's wife, has repeatedly called for stronger protections against sexual harassment for Los Angeles city employees. In November, she and another council member proposed a telephone hotline for employees to report complaints.

"The state's Assembly Rules Committee followed the required steps to resolve this matter. While my husband does not accept all of the committee's findings, he did not dispute his termination," Martinez said in a statement to the Times. "As a woman, I will continue my work to empower others to speak out about harassment and inappropriate behavior, and I will continue to speak out myself. He is ashamed and embarrassed about his behavior. But I support him for accepting the consequences of his behavior, and for his commitment to remaining sober."

Two other legislators, Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills) and state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), resigned in recent months due to sexual misconduct allegations, which both deny. Several other lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), have faced investigations into accusations of harassment.

Garcia was particularly vocal in calling for Bocanegra's resignation when accusations against him first went public. In his statement Wednesday, he issued a veiled swipe at Garcia, who is now on unpaid leave pending the outcome of an investigation into her conduct.

Advertisement

"While at least one sitting assemblymember has refused to take accountability for her inappropriate actions with staff during her time in office, I have done my best to take accountability for any alleged actions prior to ever serving in office," Bocanegra said.

Advertisement
Advertisement