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L.A. School Board President Charged With Felonies Over Campaign Contributions

The Los Angeles County district attorney has charged the Los Angeles Unified school board president with three felonies, including conspiracy, perjury, and offering false or forged testimony, in connection to his 2015 school board race.

In a press release on Wednesday, the district attorney's office alleged that school board president Refugio Rodriguez, and his cousin Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, reimbursed $24,250 in campaign contributions to donors that Rodriguez reported as contributing to his campaign during his first run for the school board. The reimbursement, nearly half of the $50,000 that Rodriguez had reported raising in a Dec. 31, 2014 filing, went to 25 people, many of whom were family members and friends, the district attorney's office alleged.

Rodriguez signed the campaign finance report, with the donors' names under penalty of perjury, according to the district attorney's office.

An investigation by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which received a whistleblower's complaint in March 2015, found that the contributions were fraudulent because nearly half were reimbursed. The commission sent its findings to the county's district attorney's office.

Rodriguez and Melendrez were both charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed named contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contributions, according to the district attorney's office. Rodriguez was also charged with one felony count of perjury and one felony count of procuring and offering a false or forged instrument.

Rodriguez and Melendrez were scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday afternoon. Rodriguez faces a maximum sentence of four years and four months in jail if he is convicted of the felony charges. Melendrez could face up to three years in custody, the district attorney's office said.

The charges against Rodriguez come soon after his selection to be president of the Los Angeles Unified school board just a few months after a pro-charter school majority was elected and assumed control of the panel. Rodriguez is the co-founder of a Los Angeles-area charter school network known as Partnerships to Uplift Communities, or PUC.

Among the people who were reimbursed for contributions were a janitor, tutor, and parent organizer at PUC, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In a statement issued by the school district, Rodriguez said he hoped to resolve the allegations quickly.

"This decision by the District Attorney comes after attempts by my legal team and me to resolve these issues with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for over two years," he said in the statement. "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."

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