Seven people voted illegally in Vernon city council elections held this past summer, according to the city’s appointed hearing officer.
Deborah Wong Yang’s decision Monday could change the June 5 election results, currently certified by the Los Angeles County, that gives the election to Reno Bellamy, tipping the scale toward his opponent Luz Martinez. If the Vernon city council accepts Yang’s decision, Bellamy would have 27 votes instead of the original 34, losing out to Martinez’s 30 votes from June 5.
Calling it a “joyous day” in a statement released through the business chamber, Martinez said she is looking “forward to the coming days or weeks when I will be officially sworn in to serve the remainder of the council term of our former mayor and Councilman Hilario ‘Larry’ Gonzales.”
Bellamy, on the losing end of the results, declared it a “sad day for democracy,” and decried the hearing process as a “dog and pony show” that should have been held in a “real court.” As of Monday, he did not yet have definite plans to challenge Yang’s decision, and said he would have to talk to his lawyer and family and “decide from there.”
Vernon Chamber of Commerce president Marisa Olguin said Yang’s decision “demonstrates the strength and vigilance of residents and business constituents who came together again to make sure there is no hint of corruption in its democratic and governing process.” She added the chamber hopes the District Attorney’s office will “hold those criminally accountable for their poor attempt to manipulate the integrity of the electoral process.”
Vernon decided to take up claims by the local business chamber and several residents that as many as ten ballots were cast by people who do not actually live in Vernon. Yang’s seventeen-page decision details her reasons for invalidating seven of the voters challenged, including voters testifying that they did not actually intend to make Vernon their home, the way in which they filed their voter registrations, and the lack of “clarity and candor” of a few of the voters who were called to the stand during a three-day long hearing process.
Yang says Bernard Patrick Roberts, David Timothy Roberts, Gary Edward Sabara, Jr., Victor Garcia, Glenn Davis Gulla, Denise Irene O’Connell, and Robin Andrew Miller voted illegally and their votes should not be counted in the final tally of the June 5 election. She also found that the Vernon chamber’s attorney did not provide enough proof to show that two voters, Dennis Eugene Roberts and Dean Allen Gulla, cast their votes illegally. Their votes should still be counted, Yang concluded.
Chamber representatives want authorities to go beyond Yang’s recommendations. The chamber’s own investigation “uncovered relationships between current/former Councilmembers and households where illegally votes were cast,” Olguin wrote in an email to EGP. “Based on the evidence and witness testimony… the D.A. public integrity division’s automatic next step would be to investigate the connections of these relationships and validate for themselves if there was a conspiracy,” she added.
During last month’s testimony, it was revealed that Dennis Roberts, whose own vote was not invalidated, but whose family members’ votes were, said he occasionally golfed with the brother of Eric Fresch, the late, former city administrator and city attorney in Vernon. Before he died, Fresch was the target of an audit concluding the city’s finances were mismanaged while he was receiving a salary of more than a million dollars a year. Dean Gulla is a former employee of Red Carpet Car Wash, managed by sitting councilman Richard Maisano.
During a previous city council election in April when the chamber also challenged several votes, their attorney Fred Woocher said the D.A. may not be interested in pursuing the individuals the chamber challenged, but “what [county prosecutors] would be more interested in is if somebody put them up to it” and if it were a “widespread effort by someone to affect the outcome.”