FPPC Approves Penalties Against Commerce Officials

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite residents demanding harsher penalties, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) today approved reduced fines against two Commerce officials accused of violating campaign-filing laws, among other charges.

The commission approved a $55,000 fine against Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio, who initially faced one of the largest penalties ever issued by the FPPC  over allegations she had illegally transferred campaign funds into her personal bank account, used a campaign debit card to pay for a kitchen remodel and had failed to timely file and properly disclose contributions. Under the agreement, $15,000 of the fine must be paid out of her own pocket, the remainder can be paid using campaign funds and donations.

The commission also approved a $15,500 penalty against Mayor Ivan Altamirano. As EGP detailed in separate story published today, Altamirano is accused of  violating conflict of interest and campaign filing laws, including failing to file and properly disclose financial activity on pre-election campaign statements, late filing of 24-hour contribution reports and for voting on a matter the FFPC concluded he had a financial interest in.

Commere Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, is facing a $15,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano, pictured above, at a city event earlier this year, has agreed to pay a $15,500 fine levied by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. (City of Commerce)

The mayor is accused of using his position to get his sister appointed to the city’s planning commission and to get approval for the installation of a stop sign within 150 feet of his rental property.

The penalty amounts approved by the Commission are the result of negotiations between FPPC Enforcement Division officials and the Commerce elected officials. The recommendation by enforcement officials did not sit well with Commerce residents who asked commissioners to reject the settlements.

“I’m asking that you be a lot more firm,” said Richard Hernandez, a Commerce resident who traveled to Sacramento for the hearing. “Make this case an example, not just for Commerce but all the other cities, show them that you’re not going to show any type of tolerance for their violations.”

Hernandez added that other elected officials are following her, citing Altamirano’s troubles as an example. He told the Commission that Commerce residents had been harmed and deserved justice.

FPPC enforcement staff initially proposed a $104,000 default judgment against Baca Del Rio for 24 different violations of the Political Reform Act. The Act regulates campaign finances, conflict of interests, lobbying and ethics laws.

In a 500-page complaint against Baca Del Rio, the councilwoman was accused of illegally transferring $8,000 in campaign funds to her personal bank account and in a separate transaction using a campaign fund debit card to  pay for a kitchen remodel. Baca Del Rio claimed the transferred funds were reimbursement for a loan she had made to her campaign committee.

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio will pay a $55,000 fine to the FPPC. (City of Commerce)

According to the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, however, there is no evidence she ever made such a loan.

Baca Del Rio was first elected to the Commerce City Council in 2005, but recalled in November 2008 only to be reelected a year later. She was most recently reelected in March 2013

Altamirano was appointed to the city council in March 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by former Councilman Robert Fierro who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony conspiracy charge. Altamirano was elected for the first time in March 2013.

The 5-member commission heavily discussed Baca Del Rio’s reduced fine during a meeting in August -that had been negotiated that same say – but voted 2-2 to hold the matter over until the full settlement agreement was in writing and available for the Commission to review. Commissioner Eric Casher, who ultimately voted in favor of the settlement, was not present at the previous meeting to cast his vote.

At the time, citing Baca Del Rio’s past problems and delayed response to the current action against her, the commissioners strongly stated they wanted to see all Baca Del Rio’s stipulations in writing before voting, adding they were reserving their right to reject the settlement agreement if not satisfied by its final form.

Today, Commissioner Maria Audero cast the lone vote against the settlement, saying Baca Del Rio had a history of  violating the rules and not reporting contributions, noting that although the Commerce councilwoman was fined in 2011 for many of the same violations, within months of stipulating “she would not do it again” she was again in violation. Audero said she supported issuing a more punitive fine based on her belief that Baca Del Rio had an “intent to disregard” the law.

Commerce resident Charles Calderon also spoke during the meeting, telling commissioners he was disappointed by their decision to approved the reduced penalty for Baca Del Rio, despite her having been fined for similar infractions in the past.

While both Hernandez and Calderon spoke against reduced fines for either of the elected officials, most of their criticism was directed at Baca Del Rio.

According to Calderon’s testimony, a number of residents are collecting signatures to hand over to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey asking that her office open an investigation into what he called Baca Del Rio’s abuse of power as an elected official, and her continuously violating campaign and conflict of interest laws.

Calderon said the ethics and campaign violations by the two sitting council members have harmed Commerce’s public image, claiming Commerce is now being bundled up with Southeast cities that have had a history of scandals involving politicians accused of corruption.

“Now we’re being compared to the cities of Bell and Vernon.” he told commissioners.

 

Updated: 10/04/16: Clarifies that Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio claimed the transfer of funds was repayment for a loan she made to her campaign, and to not to pay for a kitchen remodel as stated in an earlier version of this story. According to Baca Del Rio, it was she who brought her husband’s use of a campaign debit card to pay for services related to the personal kitchen remodel to the attention of the FPPC.

Alcaldesa Interina de Commerce Enfrenta Duras Penalidades de la FPPC

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

La alcaldesa interina Tina Baca del Río enfrenta el mayor fallo propuesto por el Estado contra un funcionario local en oficina con alegaciones de que ella transfirió ilegalmente fondos de campaña a su cuenta bancaria personal y no informó de sus contribuciones a tiempo, entre otras violaciones.

La Comisión Federal de Prácticas Políticas Justas (FPPC) propone multar a Baca del Río $104,000 por 24 diferentes violaciones de la Ley de Reforma Política, la cual regula las finanzas de campaña, conflicto de intereses, grupos de presión y ética.

Read this article in English: Commerce Councilwoman Facing Heavy FPPC Fines

De esos honorarios, $20,000 deberán ser pagados de su bolsillo y no pueden correr a cargo de los fondos de campaña. “Tina Baca Del Río para el Ayuntamiento de Commerce 2013” es responsable por los $84.000 cobros adicionales y podría pedir donaciones para pagarlos.

El fallo propuesto se presentará a la FPPC 20 de julio para su aprobación final. La penalidad de Baca Del Río empequeñece una multa de $40,000 impuesta en 2011 al ex alcalde de Los Ángeles Antonio Villaraigosa, quien llegó a un acuerdo, por no revelar entradas gratuitas para eventos deportivos y de entretenimiento.

Baca Del Río fue re-elegida para formar parte del consejo de la ciudad de Commerce en marzo de 2013. Ella fue elegida por primera vez en 2005, pero destituida en noviembre de 2008. Fue reelegida meses más tarde al cargo en marzo de 2009. Se desempeñó como tesorera de sus comités de campaña durante los períodos en cuestión, de acuerdo con la FPPC.

Los funcionarios electos están obligados a presentar declaraciones de rutina dos veces al año, y múltiples declaraciones antes de una elección.

Tina Baca del Río es la alcaldesa internia de Commerce.

Tina Baca del Río es la alcaldesa internia de Commerce.

La queja de 500 páginas contra la alcaldesa interina de Commerce incluye acusaciones de que utilizó fondos de su campaña para uso personal y no presentó sus declaraciones a tiempo ni divulgó actividad financiera en tres declaraciones de campaña semestrales, un estado de pre-elección de campaña y 14 informes de contribución de 24 horas. El documento también establece que Baca Del Río falló para pagar a la Oficina de la Secretaría de Estado sus cargos anuales de 2013 y 2014.

En el documento presentado el 30 de junio Baca Del Río está acusada de transferir un total de $8,134 en su cuenta bancaria entre abril de 2011 y agosto de 2011, alegando que devolvería a sí misma un préstamo hecho por su comité de campaña. Según la División de Cumplimiento de la FPPC, no hay evidencia que demuestre que la alcaldesa interina de Commerce efectuó dicho préstamo.

Baca Del Río también admitió en octubre de 2014 que su marido utilizó accidentalmente la tarjeta bancaria del comité de campaña para pagar $1,400 en gastos de remodelación de su cocina, pero que pagó el gasto al comité. De acuerdo con la FPPC, sin embargo, nunca se demostró evidencia de pago.

Una queja formal ante la Secretaría de la ciudad de Commerce, la Secretaría de la oficina del Estado refirieron el caso a la FPPC.

Baca Del Río no respondió a una llamada de EGP para hacer comentarios, pero en una entrevista con el LA Times, ella dijo que estaba “muy sensible a funcionarios de la Comisión, que el juicio propuesto la tomó por sorpresa”.

Esta no es la primera vez que Baca Del Río ha sido acusada de violar las normas de presentación de informes de campaña.

Según reportó EGP en 2011, la FPPC multó a Baca Del Río “después de concluir que sus prácticas de presentación mostraron un ‘patrón de negligencia’ y le ordenó pagar $26.000 de un máximo de $35,000 en sanciones administrativas.

“Los votantes de Commerce estuvieron ‘privados de información importante’ sobre los hábitos de recaudación de fondos y gastos de campaña de un funcionario de la ciudad porque ella no presentó varios documentos de información a tiempo”, de acuerdo con el juicio de la FPPC.

Tal como en el 2011, el caso de Baca Del Río se vio agravado por su falta de presentación, incluso después de varias notificaciones para hacerlo.

Al determinar sus multas, la Comisión considera sanciones anteriores que envuelven casos similares, y señaló en su denuncia que “Baca Del Río tenía razones para estar al tanto de sus obligaciones tributarias, ya que anteriormente había sido multada por no presentar declaraciones de campaña”.

De acuerdo con el informe de la FPPC, el propósito de divulgar la actividad de finanzas de la campaña es “para garantizar que los ingresos y gastos en las campañas electorales se den a conocer plenamente y con la verdad con el fin de que los electores puedan estar plenamente informados y las prácticas inadecuadas puedan ser inhibidas”.

Baca Del Río fue notificada de sus violaciones y proporcionó un resumen de la evidencia y su derecho a acudir ante la Comisión para determinar si realmente violó la Ley. Se le dio múltiples oportunidades para responder al informe o llegar a un acuerdo, pero no pudo responder de manera oportuna, lo que provocó el fallo por falta.

Si la comisión aprueba la sentencia de $104.000 en multas, estas serán pagadas directamente al fondo general del estado.

La FPPC le dijo a EGP que la comisión no hace comentarios sobre casos en curso.

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nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

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