County COO Draws Fire for Past Election Fraud Conviction

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Orange County’s chief operating officer, Mark Denny, whose responsibilities include overseeing the registrar of voters, is attracting fire for a 1996 guilty plea for misdemeanor election fraud.

A formal complaint regarding Denny was filed this week by Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association or OCEA. In a letter to members of the county Board of Supervisors, Berardino states that placing Denny over the registrar of voters creates a perceptual issue regarding the sanctity of the voting process.

It’s unlikely anyone with such a misdemeanor conviction could pass the criminal background check required to work inside an election registrar’s office.

Denny, who was appointed to his current position last year after Giancola was named CEO, did not return a call seeking comment. Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley, who reports to Denny, also would not comment on the issue.

Giancola this week issued a statement standing by Denny’s appointment.

“I have full confidence in my Chief Operating Officer. I knew about his background when I hired him eight months ago and he’s doing a great job for the County,” Giancola wrote.

It isn’t the first time that one of Kelley’s bosses has raised issues for that office.

Under former CEO Tom Mauk, Kelley’s office was made to report directly  to the CEO when Deputy CEO Dave Rudat got into trouble in 2007 and was eventually let go.

Denny’s troubles began in 1996 when he was a staff aide to Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle and pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge after a Republican scheme to manipulate the ballot was exposed. The scheme involved circulating nominating petitions for a decoy Democrat candidate — Laurie Campbell — who then fraudulently claimed on election forms that she circulated the petitions on her own.

Along with Denny, two other GOP campaign workers eventually pleaded guilty to election fraud and named Rhonda Carmony, then a top aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, as instrumental in the plan, according to their sworn declarations to the court. Carmony later married Rohrabacher.

Another campaign aide, who worked for then Assemblyman Scott Baugh, R-Huntington Beach, also pleaded guilty to participating in a plan to put Campbell on the ballot to siphon votes from a more established Democratic candidate in the Assembly race.

Baugh would later go on to become chairman of the Orange County Republican Party and is now rumored to be considering a run for state Senate.

Denny later resurrected his political career, becoming a well-regarded chief of staff to former Supervisor Bill Campbell. After a short stint in the private sector after Campbell’s first term in office, Denny returned to the county as the parks director before being named CAO last year.

The concerns raised by OCEA about Denny come just as labor negotiations between the union and the county have broken down. Last month, county officials delivered a last, best and final offer to the union that included no raises and punitive measures if the offer was rejected, which it was by a 99-percent margin.

One county supervisor, Todd Spitzer, has already raised concerns that negotiations with employee groups are going nuclear.

The complaint filed by Berardino is part of an ongoing campaign by OCEA to highlight problems in county government and show corruption by high-ranking officials.

A newly-launched website dubbed “The Real Supervisors of Orange County” is publicizing numerous questionable contracts and linking campaign contributions to county supervisors from vendors seeking business.

The website calls on the public to delve into supervisors’ campaign finance and steps up a grand jury’s suggestion that the county establish an ethics commission:

These Orange County politicians have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to campaign contributors, including to a company convicted of fraud.

And they’ve allowed special interest lobbyists to write laws to benefit themselves instead of Orange County residents.

The Grand Jury has called out a culture of corruption in Orange County government, and now an FBI Task Force is investigating corruption in government as well.

You can click through this website to find just some of the many examples of wasteful perks, pay-to-play practices and cronyism in Orange County.

It’s time to clean up our community. Please join us.

County Supervisor John Moorlach has labeled Berardino’s complaint against Denny as cheap politics aimed at influencing labor negotiations.

In his email newsletter, Moorlach Update, Moorlach calls out Berardino directly:

Mark Denny was the recipient of an aggressive District Attorney’s attempt to make a name for himself. … Those efforts backfired when his bid to become California’s next Attorney General failed in the primary and his heir apparent lost in his candidacy to the current DA. All the same, it is an incident on Mark’s record. So, the general manager of the Orange County Employees Association knows that the County has no financial resources to grant pay increases to his union members. After all, he was unable to convince the Governor and the Department of Finance to return our Vehicle License Fee/Property Tax revenues. Now his frustration is being vented in tactics that may also backfire, as they do not change the real issue of the state taking significant revenues from Orange County which has reduced the funds available for raises.

In response to Moorlach’s statement, Berardino said OCEA’s efforts began long before labor negotiations reached an impasse.

 “The community, taxpayers and employee interests will not be served until county corruption is cleaned up,” Berardino said. “To allow anyone, regardless of political affiliation, who has been convicted of election fraud, to oversee the election process speaks volumes about the corruption in this county.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino sent a letter regarding Mark Denny’s election fraud conviction to county CEO Mike Giancola. The letter was actually sent to individual members of the Board of Supervisors.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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