Both Sides in Commerce Recall Claim to Be Victims of Fraud
By Jacqueline García, EGP Staff Writer
A failed recall attempt in the City of Commerce is continuing to generate attention as parties on both side of the issue point blame and claim they are the victims in the ongoing saga.
As previously reported by EGP, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk disqualified hundreds of signatures submitted on each of the recall petitions targeting Commerce City Council members: Tina Baca Del Rio, Ivan Altamirano, Lilia Leon and Joe Aguilar.
Backers needed 25% of the city’s eligible voters, 1,577 signatures, to force a recall: a separate petition was circulated for each council member. The county invalidated approximately 4,000 of the signatures collected, leaving proponents approximately 225 to 500 signatures short on each of the petitions.
During a city council meeting earlier this month, council members accused recall proponents of fraud and asked the city attorney to explore options for holding those responsible accountable.
This is not over, Baca Del Rio said.
At the time, City Attorney Eduardo Olivo told the council the process was ongoing because the proponents had a right to recount and question the county’s disqualifications; a right they exercised on May 8.
Recall proponents were represented at the meeting by Commerce resident Mike Alvarado, a leader of the recall effort; Sylvia Ortiz, a consultant hired by the group to manage the signature gathering process; and Attorney Brad Hertz, a partner in The Sutton Law firm which specializes in political election law and litigation. Commerce City Clerk and Elections Official Lena Shumway was also present.
According to an article posted on the Hews Media Group-Community News website and emailed to EGP, Ortiz “was accused by the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder of forgery and willfully adding deceased people to the recall petitions, and that the Registrar Recorder will ask the Los Angeles District Attorney to investigate.”
Shumway, Regina Ip, media and communications officer with the L.A. County Registrar Recorder and Hertz, however, all told EGP they could not confirm or recall anyone from the County Registrar’s office making such a statement.
“Ortiz reportedly admitted to forgeries and adding names of deceased people,” the article alleges.
“The City is not aware of whether or not Ms. Ortiz admitted to any forgeries.” Shumway told EGP via email. “The city did not witness any admissions by Ms. Ortiz during the review by the proponents,” she added.
In an email, Hertz told EGP he does not “recall the Registrar’s office accusing Ms. Ortiz of forgery or willfully adding deceased people’s names or signatures to the recall petitions, and the Registrar’s office did not make such accusations against Ms. Ortiz.” He also clarified “the signature review lasted several hours” and not 40 minutes as the article states. “On the following Monday, I informed the Registrar’s office and the Commerce City Clerk’s office that the proponents had decided not to continue with the signature review process,” Hertz told EGP.
Jaime Valencia, who along with Alvarado spearheaded the recall effort, told EGP the proponents were “shocked” by the county’s findings and asked for a “full investigation into the matter.”
He said Ortiz was hired because she “came highly recommended” and was known for the high profile campaigns she managed in Southeast L.A.” and the East LA Cityhood movement. According to Valencia, Ortiz’s pay was based on the number of signatures collected.
In an email, Valencia said county election officials informed them some of the signatures “had been falsified with the suspicion directed at one particular individual hired to gather the signatures,” but he did not name the individual.
“We are hurt and disappointed that one individual would try to sabotage our efforts to recall,” he said.
The targeted council members are not buying claims that the recall effort was “sabotaged” or the proponents were victimized. Altamirano said they became suspicious when they heard Ortiz would be the campaign manager.
“We had heard from other council members, in different cities, that Ms. Ortiz has a bad reputation and has engaged in improper activities in recalls in their cities,” Altamirano told EGP.
Baca Del Rio told EGP she thought it was suspicious that they had gathered “such a large number of signatures in such a short period of time.”
EGP’s attempts to contact Ortiz were unsuccessful.
“We need to bring these individuals to justice, not only for our city but for surrounding cities,” Baca Del Rio told EGP. She said recalls give cities a bad reputation.
Altamirano, Leon and Baca Del Rio also accused Councilwoman Denise Robles of being involved in the “disruption.”
“Their conduct is shameful … and every person involved, including Councilmember Denise Robles and her husband should be ashamed,” Altamirano told EGP.
Leon said Robles “has tried to give [proponents] as much assistance as possible,” and called her participation “disrespectful” to the community and a “mockery of the election process.”
Altamirano says the council would like to discuss how to proceed in closed session, but can’t because they can’t trust Robles to not inform her friends, “Ms. Ortiz and other responsible recall proponents,” about their decisions.
Robles countered that neither she nor her husband were part of the group that hired Ortiz. “I do not even know what she looks like,” she said.
“I am in full support of filing a complaint with the District Attorney for any election fraud,” Robles said, adding that as an elected official she has the right to be in closed session meetings.
Altamirano said he thinks “the community should demand Ms. Robles immediate resignation and apology” for her part in the failed recall attempt. “What she and her husband and other recall proponents have done is shameful and an embarrassment to democracy,” he said.
“I did not contribute financially, participate in the decision making of the recall process nor did I participate in the signature gathering,” said Robles, adding that the number of valid signatures gathered “show there are voters in the city that do not want the incumbents in office.”
Valencia said he had nothing to do with the alleged forgery and told EGP he feels betrayed. “We trusted that all the persons gathering signatures for the recall believed in our effort to get rid of the corrupt politics in our city,” he said. “We are viewing this as a temporary set back and are planning to continue the recall.”
According to Shumway, the city attorney is reviewing all issues related to the invalid signatures on the petitions, but at this time, they cannot comment on specifics.
“The City will take appropriate action to address such matters as soon as it has obtained all information that it requires,” she said.Print This Post
May 22, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.