Commerce Councilman Resigns After Pleading Guilty To Misdemeanor
Hugo Argumedo said he made a mistake ‘in restrospect.’
By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer
Commerce City Councilman Hugo Argumedo was forced to resign on Tuesday after pleading guilty to signing a false statement in a civil lawsuit.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Henry Barela also prohibited Argumedo from running for office during the next three years.
Argumedo pleaded to a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice, while avoiding a felony count of perjury by declaration, said Deputy District Attorney Sandi Roth.
The D.A. filed the case against Argumedo on Dec. 14. He pleaded guilty to submitting a false affidavit that he had certified as true in a civil lawsuit between the City of Commerce and former city attorney Francisco Leal.
Leal filed the false affidavit signed by Argumedo to defend against allegations that he did not pay a settlement to the city after a contractual dispute.
Roth said Argumedo’s actions resulted in additional legal fees for the city and a “miscarriage of justice.”
A legal fight between the city and Leal led up to Argumedo filing his false affidavit, according to Roth. The dispute was over money each party felt it was owed.
In a 2006 lawsuit that he filed after he was let go by the city, former city attorney Leal claimed the city owed him money. The city countersued and was awarded a $70,000 settlement agreement.
A fight over the amount of that settlement was where Argumedo’s involvement leading up to his guilty plea came in, she said.
Leal refused to pay the $70,000, saying the council never saw, and never voted on, a $20,000 settlement amount he had initially offered. By this point the city was suing Leal for breaching the settlement agreement set at the $70,000 amount.
Meanwhile, Argumedo had signed an affidavit backing Leal’s claim that the council never voted on Leal’s $20,000 offer. But D.A. prosecutors said the city council did vote on and ultimately rejected the $20,000 settlement amount. The vote was made in closed session, but there are minutes and a paper trail, Roth said.
The D.A. began looking into the case after a complaint was filed in 2008. Roth believes Argumedo had complete knowledge of what he was doing when he signed the false affidavit.
An early admission of wrongdoing by Argumedo, and his agreement to resign from the city council and not run for office for three years, mitigated his situation down from a felony to a misdemeanor, she said.
Argumedo made his official exit at the beginning of Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, the last one scheduled for the year. But before discussing the one “regret” he had about his time on council, he enumerated “accomplishments” that he presided over since getting elected to the council for the first time in 1996, including the opening of the Crown Plaza Hotel, the purchase of the Citadel Outlet stores, creation of the Education Commission, and the restructuring of the Commerce Scholarship Program.
After this lengthy set-up in which he described some of his accomplishments as being initially seen as “controversial,” Argumedo finally turned his focus to explaining what led up to filing the false affidavit.
He said he signed the affidavit supporting Leal’s $20,000 settlement amount because he felt the city had not honored its agreement.
He was given a chance to withdraw his affidavit, as did former Councilwoman Rosalina Lopez, who had also signed an affidavit supporting Leal’s claim, but was put off by the “intimidating” manner of their city attorney, Eduardo Olivo.
“I felt he was literally telling Rosalina, I recall him vividly telling her, you are going to lose your house, you are going to be arrested. In retrospect, maybe the statements were correct,” he said.
Argumedo said he “could not trust Mr. Olivo’s advice at the time due to him having been involved in the plotting and planning of the illegal takeover of the city of Vernon.”
Still he admitted that “it was a mistake” on his part to sign the false affidavit, but right before leaving the dais, Argumedo said he was doing so “reluctantly.”
Argumedo’s resignation speech angered Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio, who felt there was no need to blame their city attorney. “If indeed you are found guilty of something, then you take that judgment, you take that as a man,” she said.
They gave Argumedo the opportunity to retract his affidavit, she said, adding that there was no “intimidation” on the part of Olivo. “We’re all big girls and big boys,” she said.
Baca Del Rio said Argumedo’s support of Leal was counter to the interest of the community. “Hugo chose to take sides with Francisco Leal. We couldn’t understand why a councilmember would do such a thing, being that this man [Leal] took the money that belonged to the people of this community,” she said.
Argumedo’s city council seat is up in March, but he had not filed to run again. Commerce spokesperson Brian Wolfson said the city has the option of appointing or electing someone to finish the term, or leaving the spot open until the next election, which is in March.
Six other council members have resigned from office since the city’s incorporation in 1960. The last people to resign from Commerce City Council were Ricardo Vasquez and Robert Eula in 1984. Both had been found guilty of soliciting and accepting bribes. They pleaded no contest to the federal charges against them.Print This Post
December 23, 2010 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.