LOS ANGELES (FOX 11 / CNS) - One week after being charged with perjury and other felonies for allegedly funneling $25,000 of his own money into his campaign by listing phony donors on a disclosure form, Ref Rodriguez today gave up his position as president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board.
Rodriguez will remain on the school board, but said he was stepping aside as president to avoid being a distraction. "When I was elected board president, I committed to highlighting the Kids First agenda for L.A. Unified," Rodriguez said. "I remain committed to putting kids first, and so, in order to allow the board to remain focused on the hard work ahead of us, I have decided to step aside as board president.
"I do not want to serve as a distraction to my colleagues, or to any of the other dedicated teachers, principals and employees who do the hard work of educating students every day," he said. "I have always been driven by my passion to give all kids, but especially those with backgrounds similar to mine, a chance at a brighter future, and I believe this decision will help us continue doing exactly that."
Monica Garcia serves as the board's vice president.
Rodriguez, 46, was charged last week with more than two dozen criminal counts for allegedly reimbursing nearly $25,000 to donors he listed on a campaign finance form. He was charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
Rodriguez was also charged with 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.
His cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.
According to city Ethics Commission documents, shortly after Rodriguez began his campaign for the school board seat in November 2014, Rodriguez "provided $26,000 of his own money to Melendrez, his cousin and a key campaign volunteer, with instructions to funnel that money into his campaign account by
asking family members to make contributions."
"Melendrez enticed 25 family members and friends to make campaign contributions by telling them that their contributions would be reimbursed," according to the Ethics Commission accusation. "The 25 contributions were made from Dec. 23 through Dec. 31, 2014, ranged from $775 to $1,100 each, and totaled $24,250. Melendrez fully reimbursed all 25 contributions using Rodriguez's funds."
According to the Ethics Commission, Rodriguez filed a campaign disclosure statement on Jan. 12, 2015, and that statement included the 25 donations that had been reimbursed. "In that statement, Rodriguez certified under penalty of perjury that he had raised a total of $51,001 in contributions from other people. However,
nearly half of the reported funds were actually Rodriguez's own money," according to the Ethics Commission.
Rodriguez said last week he and his attorneys have been trying to "resolve the issues with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for over two years."
"As the product of an immigrant family, nobody has more respect for the integrity of the American justice system than I do," Rodriguez said. "I have cooperated with authorities and hope these issues will be resolved
expeditiously and fairly. "Above all, my commitment to the students, teachers, parents and families of Los Angeles remains unwavering. I have always been determined to put students first and to bring a `Kids First' agenda to L.A. Unified. I was just a kid from the community and developed a passion for education -- and ran
as a first-time candidate -- in order to build a better future for other kids like me. That passion has always fueled me, and it always will."
Melendrez's attorney, Mark Werksman, called the criminal charges "much ado about nothing." "We are surprised this has risen to the level of a criminal prosecution," he said, calling it "mystifying" that county prosecutors would bring a case "over such a small amount of money so long ago."