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Politics

Ethics agency drops case against Assemblyman Roger Hernandez citing death of witness

Roger Hernandez

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D–West Covina) is challenging fellow Democrat Grace Napolitano for her 32nd Congressional District seat.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The state ethics agency cited the serious illness and death of key witnesses in its decision to drop charges that political contributions were laundered to the 2010 campaign of Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina).

Ending a protracted legal battle that began three years ago, the state Fair Political Practices Commission has also notified Hernandez’s attorney that it will not pursue allegations that the candidate failed to report spending on a mass mailing on the West Covina City Council elections.

“After a full investigation, the Enforcement Division did not find sufficient, reliable evidence to conclude that your client violated the [Political Reform] Act in this instance and is closing the file on this matter,” wrote Zachary W. Norton, an attorney for the FPPC, to Hernandez’s lawyer.

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The state agency launched the probe after receiving a citizen complaint questioning loans of $100,000 that Hernandez made to his campaign in 2009 and 2010.

The commission issued a finding of probable cause in January. At that time, an attorney for the state agency alleged Hernandez’s committee filed “an inaccurate semi-annual campaign statement with the Secretary of State, falsely reporting information regarding the true sources of contributions received.”

Hernandez challenged the allegations, and in preparing for an administrative hearing, commission attorneys found “inconsistencies in previous witness testimony” and that key witnesses were not available, Norton said.

“Specifically, one key witness has serious medical issues that would prevent him from testifying and another has passed away,” Norton wrote in the case-closing letter. “The standard for proving a violation of the Act administratively is based on the preponderance of the evidence and, at this point, the evidence is not sufficient to meet that standard.”

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The allegation involving failure to report a mass mailer was dropped after Hernandez’s campaign provided information that the campaign staffer who approved it was not authorized to do so, Norton said.

Jimmy Gutierrez, an attorney for the Assemblyman, said the letter provides false excuses for why the case was dropped.

“They had issued probable cause findings with no facts whatsoever and they know it,” Gutierrez said. “There was absolutely no merit to it whatsoever.”


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