Friday, July 30, 2004
Ex-Councilmember’s Conviction for Lying About Residence Upheld
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A former member of the Huntington Park City Council was properly convicted of perjury and filing false nomination papers for lying about her residence, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Three affirmed Linda Luz Guevara’s November 2002 convictions on four felony counts, rejecting her contentions that the statute of limitations had run as to three of the counts before the case was filed and that prosecutors withheld discovery. Guevara was the first elected official to be successfully prosecuted by District Attorney Steve Cooley’s public integrity unit.
Guevara first ran for the council in March 1997, Aswearing that she lived on Walnut Street in Huntington Park. She lost the election, but filed two days later to run in a June special election for the seat of a recently deceased member of the council.
Guevara filed a “declaration of circulator” and an “affidavit of nominee” for the special election, both declaring a Huntington Park residence. She won the election, and filed in December 1998 to run for a full term in the March 1999 election; Guevara again filed a declaration of circulator and an affidavit of nominee saying she lived in Huntington Park and won the election.
Following investigation, prosecutors charged Guevara with two counts of perjury and two counts of filing false nomination papers. They presented evidence that she had lived in Lakewood or Downey from 1990 right up to the time of trial, and that she had consistently filed documents with the Downey Unified School District—where her son went to school and participated in an educational program with limited enrollment—attesting to a Downey residence.
Of the two Huntington Park addresses that Guevara had listed on her nomination documents, evidence showed, the first was a multiple unit complex owned by a client of the eviction service Guevara operated with her husband. The second was a leased three-bedroom home in which Guevara’s mother and sister resided, with the third bedroom used as a computer room/office.
Investigators testified that they had employed surveillance in early 2001 and discovered that Guevara was staying at the Downey residence and that neither she nor her husband parked a car at her listed address in Huntington Park on any of the several occasions when they checked.
Guevara testified she had rented a room from her client prior to becoming a candidate, then moved into her mother’s house and slept on an inflatable mattress. She acknowledged that her husband and son lived in Downey, but claimed she only stayed there on weekends, a plan the family had agreed on so that she could serve on the council while her son remained in Downey schools.
Confronted With Report
The prosecution, however, confronted her with a campaign finance report listing her husband, who was also her campaign treasurer, as living at the same Huntington Park address she was using. She replied that she had signed and sworn to the report in blank, and that her campaign manager had mistakenly added the address later.
Jurors found her guilty on all counts. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Mintz placed her on five years’ probation and ordered her to serve 180 days in custody, but declined to ban her from politics because the charges did not involve her council service.
She cannot, however, run for public office while on felony probation.
Her court-appointed appellate lawyer, Michael J. Egan, argued that she should not have been prosecuted for filing false nomination papers. Those charges, Egan asserted, are subject to a three-year statute of limitations under Penal Code Sec. 801.
That section provides that a felony prosecution must be commenced within three years following commission of the offense if no other statute of limitations applies. But Justice Richard Aldrich, writing for the Court of Appeal, said another statute did apply—Sec. 803(c), which allows prosecution up to four years from completion or discovery of the offense, whichever occurs later, if the crime involves fraud or breach of fiduciary duty.
The filing of false documents in order to qualify as a candidate for office is such a crime, the justice concluded, because the Elections Code provision that Guevara violated “is designed to protect the integrity and reliability of publicly filed election documents and has at its core protections against fraud.”
Aldrich likened the crime to the filing or recording of forged instruments or the sale or issuance of unqualified securities, both of which have been held subject to the four-year statute.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, Aldrich rejected the contention that the four-year statute of limitations as to one count of perjury and one count of filing a false nomination paper had expired because the document on which they were based was filed on March 6, 1997 and prosecution was not commenced until Sept. 17, 2001.
Jurors, the justice explained, were instructed on the four-year statute. There was, Aldrich concluded, substantial evidence from which they could have found that the prosecution was commenced within four years of the discovery of the crimes.
It was not until early 2001, the justice said, that investigators “had actual notice of circumstances sufficient to make them suspicious of fraud thereby leading them to make inquiries which might have revealed the fraud.”
While investigators had been looking at the possibility that Guevara lied about her residence for some time, it was not until they received an anonymous tip, conducted surveillance, and spoke to witnesses who knew where Guevara was staying that they were able to do more than speculate that she had sworn falsely, Aldrich said.
In another unpublished portion of the opinion, the justice rejected the contention that the use of the campaign finance report was improper and prejudicial because the document was not provided during discovery.
Aldrich agreed with Mintz that there was at most a technical violation of the discovery rules, noting the document was one of several that had been seized pursuant to a search warrant and the defense had been given access to all such documents. In any event, the document was cumulative to other evidence, making any violation harmless, the justice said.
Deputy Attorney General Scott A. Taryle represented the state on appeal.
The case is People v. Guevara, B163177.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company