The battle over a public safety tax in Stanton has turned nasty, with city officials asking the OC Sheriff's Department to investigate the forged signature of a leading OC GOP Central Committee member on ballot arguments opposing the public safety tax.
The tax is up for Stanton voter approval as measure GG on the November ballot, but an internal city review determined there was a forged signature on ballot arguments against the measure.
With public safety pension costs steadily rising and putting pressure on public budgets, the tiny city of Stanton has turned into a ground zero of sorts in the battle between fiscal conservative hawks, like the Lincoln Club, and more moderate members of the OC GOP, like Stanton Councilman David Shawver.
Measure GG would put a one cent sales tax in Stanton and provide funding for the city’s general fund. Supporters, including Shawver, say its integral to maintaining public safety.
The tax has drawn fire from mainly out of town critics, such as the Lincoln Club’s Wayne Lindholm, who attack the budget gap as a ruse to cover up big salaries at city hall.
Yet whoever circulated ballot arguments against the measure apparently forged the signature of senior OC GOP Central Committee member and Stanton resident Steven Sarkis.
Sarkis' was the only local signature against the measure.
Sarkis did not return calls seeking comment.
Former Orange mayor and OC Taxpayers Association CEO Carolyn Cavecche, Lindholm and Ed Sachs of Community Common Sense led the signatures against the initiative.
Several sources indicated that Custom Campaigns – led by popular GOP consultants Chris Emami and Chris Nguyen (who also works as a staff aide for County Supervisor Todd Spitzer) – was involved in organizing the ballot arguments against Measure GG.
Both Emami and Nguyen did not return calls or emails for comment.
A recent posting on their political blog, OC Political, did take direct aim at Shawver over the issue highlighting a protest at the Stanton GOP over the issue.
Lindholm also declined comment on his involvement only stating through a text message that “Heard something about Sarkis signature on GG but don't know the details.”
Cavecche spoke to the issue and denied any role in circulating documents.
“I was in no way involved in gathering the signatures for the opposition or the rebuttal,” Cavecche said. “At OC Tax, we researched the issue and felt we could take a position opposing the tax. But that’s it.”
Stanton City Manager Jim Box confirmed the internal probe Monday as well as the referral to the OC Sheriff’s Department.
Box said city officials became aware of a potential forgery on the rebuttal arguments to the ballot measure as they were doing their due diligence checks on signatures.
“They were just doing their due diligence,” Box said of city election reviews. “The signatures just did not match up,” Box said. “We’re extremely diligent in checking signatures.”
Once City Clerk Patricia Vazquez made contact with Sarkis, he confirmed her suspicions, Box said.
“The signer agreed and said they never signed,” said Box who said Sarkis signed a notarized letter stating he didn’t issue one of the signatures attributed to him.
Documents submitted by the city to the OC Registrar of Voters indicate “Remove forged signature” in handwriting next to Sarkis’ name.
Box said city officials turned the matter over to the Sheriff’s Department and haven’t heard anything back.
“They were going to research and determine if a crime had been committed,” Box said adding, “we haven’t heard anything.”
Sheriff’s officials could not offer an update Monday.
Shawver said his city is taking the issue seriously.
“The forgery is a crime,” Shawver said. “Politics aside, that is wrong. It’s voter fraud.”
According to sources close to the matter, the investigation has been referred to the California Secretary of State’s office.
That office would not comment on the status of the probe Monday.
“Sometimes people choose to publicize their allegations but, as with most investigative entities, the California Secretary of State maintains confidentiality in investigations,” said spokeswoman Nicole Winger.
Yet if the Secretary of State finds problems, they will likely refer the matter to either the district attorney or the attorney general.
“The California Secretary of State is one of several government agencies to which alleged petition fraud may be reported, although the Secretary is not one of the agencies with prosecutorial authority. Some county district attorneys have robust investigative units of their own and, knowing that, people sometimes report fraud allegations directly to the D.A. instead,” Winger wrote in response to questions from Voice of OC.
“If sufficient evidence is found in any case that Secretary of State staff investigates, the Secretary will forward that evidence to the appropriate prosecutor and the prosecutor will decide whether to move forward with pressing charges.”
Yet with District Attorney Tony Rackauckas so close to GOP insiders, such as the Lincoln Club and the OC GOP Central Committee, many close to the case are questioning whether that kind of referral would be appropriate.
Rackauckas’ investigators recently focused on Assessor Webster Guillory – an African American independent – over problems with his signing of nomination papers back in March. A preliminary hearing in that case is scheduled for after the November elections.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to a half-cent sales tax. The proposed tax is one cent. Voice of OC regrets the error.
You can reach Norberto Santana Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @NorbertoSantana.