The board president of the USA’s second-largest school district faces felony money laundering charges after prosecutors said he illegally donated more than $24,000 to his own 2015 school board campaign — and claimed the money came from more than two dozen donors.
Refugio “Ref” Rodriguez, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District school board, could spend up to four years and four months in jail if convicted on the charges.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office detailed the charges against Rodriguez, 46, on Wednesday. He’s charged with three felony counts of conspiracy, perjury and other charges.
The case is the result of a months-long investigation into donations to Rodriguez’s successful first-time school board campaign in 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported. He became board president last July.
Rodriguez told a reporter on Wednesday that he couldn’t discuss the case, but in a statement later released by the district, he said: “As the product of an immigrant family, nobody has more respect for the integrity of the American justice system than I do. I have cooperated with authorities and hope these issues will be resolved expeditiously and fairly.”
Rodriguez said his commitment to L.A.’s students, teachers, parents and families “remains unwavering.”
In a statement, David Holmquist, the district’s general counsel, noted that the allegations “are not connected to any District business. However, we will cooperate, as needed, with the District Attorney’s Office.”
The case against Rodriguez was the result of an investigation by the city’s Ethics Commission, the Times reported. Investigators said that shortly after he filed to run for office in 2014, Rodriguez gave $26,000 to a cousin working as a campaign volunteer. He told the cousin, Elizabeth Melendrez, to have family members and friends make contributions to the campaign using the money.
Melendrez ultimately persuaded 25 of Rodriguez’s relatives and friends to donate between $775 and $1,100, for a total of $24,250.
Rodriguez later reported that he’d raised $51,001 in individual donations, but prosecutors say nearly half of that was Rodriguez’s own money.
Melendrez, who was also charged, could serve up to three years in jail.
Records show that at least a dozen of the contributors worked for Partnerships to Uplift Communities, the L.A.-based charter school organization that Rodriguez co-founded, the Times reported.
KTLA-TV reported that the probe grew out of a March 2015 whistleblower complaint.