A jury convicted a former Los Angeles City councilman and his wife Wednesday of seven felony counts related to accusations he lived outside of the district that voters had elected him to represent.
A seven-woman, five-man jury found Richard Alarcon, 60, guilty of four felony counts but aquitted him of 12 other charges. His wife, Flora Alarcon, 49, was convicted of three charges and acquitted of two others.
Richard Alarcon faces up to six years in state prison and would be unable to run for office again, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. His wife could face five years, four months in prison, along with the same restriction on running for elected office.
Richard Alarcon served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1993 to 1998 and again from 2007 to 2013. He served in the 7th Council District, representing portions of the San Fernando Valley. He was also elected to the California state Senate and Assembly.
The Los Angeles District Attorney first brought charges against the Alarcons for voter fraud and perjury in 2010, but that was thrown out of court in 2012. Prosecutors immediately refiled the case.
Prosecutors accused the couple of falsely claiming they lived in a home in Panorama City while they were in fact living at Flora Alarcon’s home in Sun Valley, five miles away in another council district. Jurors were told that a search of the Panorama City home in 2010 turned up milk that was 12 days old along with year-old eggs and orange juice.
Richard Alarcon said he began living in the Panorama City home in 2006, but was temporarily not living there during repairs stemming from a 2009 break-in.
The Los Angeles city charter states that those running for office must be a resident within that specific district for at least 30 days prior to filing a declaration of intention to run for office.
Specifically, the former councilman was found guilty of lying on a declaration to run for office and fraudulently voting in 2008 and 2009. Flora was found guilty of falsely claiming she lived in Panorama City on a provisional voting ballot, and of fradulently voting in 2009 elections.
Mark Overland, who represented Flora Alarcon in the case, drew a distinction between the common parlance of “living” and the specific legal term of “domicile” that appears in the California Elections Code.
“I think these convictions are an illusion, they’re not going to stand up,” Overland said during a press conference following the verdict. “Words are being thrown around that he lived there, and that’s not the test. It’s not whether he lived there; the test was whether he was domiciled, and that has a very specific meaning in terms of election law.”
He asked the court to give a specific definition of “where you live” for the jury, but it didn’t – “so the jury was left to guess,” Overland said.
As to whether the case pointed to a larger problem related to requiring politicians to live in their districts, “that’s the nature of politics, and that is, that politicians move in order to run in certain areas,” Overland said, pointing to New York moves by both Bobby Kennedy and Hillary Clinton to run for office.
“I think the bigger issue in this case is that all the bureaucrats better get their forms in order, and when they ask for questions that are later going to become the subject of perjury, they better be ... sure that they use the right words so that the person who’s filling out the questionnaire knows what it is that they’re talking about,” Overland said.
The verdict drew tears from supporters in the courthouse, though the Alarcons appeared resolved as they left the courtroom holding hands, refusing comments to a crowd of reporters, though Richard Alarcon said he intends to appeal the case.
Prominent civil rights activist and civic leader Rose Ochi also gave Richard Alarcon a hug as Alarcon prepared to leave the courtroom, and said she came out to show support for the politician she has seen grow since she first hired him as a young man working on youth programs in the San Fernando Valley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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