DA: Nguyen Didn’t Violate Conflict of Interest Laws

Nguyen on grand jury report

Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen. (Photo by: Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

Supervisor Janet Nguyen has been cleared of all criminal conflict of interest violations in connection with her seat on the CalOptima board of directors, according to a letter released Friday by the Orange County district attorney’s office.

“In our review of the allegations, we concluded that no criminal conflict of interest laws were violated by Janet Nguyen in her position as a Cal Optima [sic] Board member,” declared the Feb. 4 letter to Nguyen’s lawyer, Stephen Larson of Los Angeles.

The letter, signed by Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Lubinski, went on to conclude that the state Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC agrees there is not sufficient evidence to support a criminal violation of a state conflict of interest law, commonly known as the Levine Act.

Nguyen, who is running for the 34th District state Senate seat against former Assemblyman Jose Solorio, released a statement via her Sacramento-based campaign consultant, Dave Gilliard.

“I am grateful for the work done by the agencies that looked into these false accusations and for their conclusion that I did nothing wrong," the statement reads. “I have said from the beginning that these accusations were a politically motivated attempt to create negative headlines and that they had no merit."

Separately, the FPPC is conducting a noncriminal investigation of Nguyen and other board members of CalOptima, the county's health plan for poor and elderly residents, as well as other members of the county Board of Supervisors.

The FPPC enforces California’s 40-year-old political reform act, which governs candidates' reporting of political campaign contributions and spending as well as restrictions on decisions or votes that affect the officials’ financial interests.

“Our administrative investigation is ongoing,” stated FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga in an email.

Last August, Voice of OC reported that Nguyen, in her role as CalOptima board member, may have violated the Levine Act when she voted for $300,000 in contracts with Costa Mesa lawyer Todd Theodora, including one vote just days after Theodora contributed $1,800 to her re-election campaign.

Theodora's firm was hired in 2011 by the CalOptima board to investigate allegations of malfeasance among its top management leveled by the agency's chief in-house lawyer. The firm's investigation concluded that the lawyer's claims were unfounded.

The Levine Act's author, former Assemblyman Mel Levine, D-Santa Monica, has said that the law was intended “precisely” to prevent the kinds of vote-and-contribute transactions that records indicate occurred between Nguyen and Theodora.

“That was clearly squarely within the intent of that law,” Levine said in an interview with Voice of OC.

Yet in his correspondence, Lubinski wrote that the DA's office found no violation of the letter of the law:

We concluded that this narrowly tailored law does not appear to have been violated because: (1) Section 84308 only restricts contributions received "from persons with pending applications for licenses, permits or other entitlements for use," and none of the contributions in question come from persons with such pending applications; and, (2) the statute excludes "competitively bid, labor or personal employment contracts," which separately exempts some of the contributions in question from the law.

Larson, Nguyen’s lawyer, said in a telephone interview that “the important thing” is that Nguyen committed no criminal wrongdoing. “This puts that to rest.”

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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