Details continue to emerge about the ill-fated, high-level effort by OC GOP insiders to mount a last-minute opposition campaign opposing Stanton’s efforts to institute a one-cent sales tax hike – called Measure GG and largely aimed at bolstering public safety spending.
A forged signature on the ballot rebuttal arguments for a longtime OC GOP central committee member has already triggered a referral by Stanton city officials to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
While Secretary of State officials won’t publicly confirm their probe, Orange County Sheriff’s officials have confirmed that they referred the matter to the agency.
“The case was reviewed by our Economic Crimes unit and sent to the California Secretary of State Investigative Services unit on or around Sept. 11, 2014,” said Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Jeffrey Hallock.
Secretary of State officials have declined to discuss their review, or where the matter will be referred since that agency does not do prosecutions. They would likely either kick the matter to the attorney general or the district attorney.
“Sometimes people choose to publicize their allegations but, as with most investigative entities, the California Secretary of State maintains confidentiality in investigations,” spokeswoman Nicole Winger told Voice of OC earlier this month.
“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.”
Voice of OC also has obtained the sworn affidavit of Steven Sarkis – the GOP official whose signature was forged.
To date, Sarkis has not responded to requests for comment.
While Sarkis signed onto original ballot arguments against Measure GG, he had a change of heart when signatures were needed for rebuttal arguments. Apparently, someone signed for him anyway.
“I did not sign the rebuttal to argument in favor of Measure GG on August 14, 2014, nor did I authorize any person to sign on my behalf. The signature on this document is a forgery by a person unknown to me. I refused to sign this document because I disagree with the rebuttal and have decided to support Measure GG,” wrote Sarkis in a notarized document sent to authorities and obtained by Voice of OC under the state’s public records act.
Sarkis was the only local resident to sign arguments against the proposed sales tax, with the only other signatures against the measure coming from Lincoln Club President Wayne Lindholm and OC Tax CEO Carolyn Cavecche.
Lindholm also has declined to discuss his role in the scandal. Cavecche, meanwhile, said she didn’t have anything to do with circulating the signatures but only backed the initiative after reviewing the underlying budgetary and tax issues.
Stanton Councilman David Shawver has taken issue with both the Lincoln Club and OC Tax’s role in the affair saying the group didn’t do any proper due-diligence in investigating why Stanton city officials see the tax as important.
“Ms. Cavecche has never set foot in Stanton or any member of her board or staff to review any documents before her ballot argument came out on August 14, 2014. It is their own policy to work with Stanton government leaders or their staffs to analyze tax and spending. This never happened in Stanton. I asked (City Manager) Mr. Box and or CFO and his staff to check and they said no one has ever come to Stanton before the argument against GG was submitted. I never saw it on the OCTAX board agenda either before that date. I believe it was never discussed or authored by Ms. Cavecche. She just singed her name on her own without running it by her board. No minutes to reflect her action before August 1, 2014,” Shawver wrote in an email on the controversy.
“I believe the same thing happened with Mr. Lindholm and the Lincoln Club. There was no visit or records request before August 14, 2014. I believe support against Measure GG was not even discussed before the board of directors until around August 22 when a board member mentioned it to me they had allocated money against GG with Board Member Rick Muth, owner of Orco Block who was on the Blue Ribbon Committee Yes on Measure GG. I found it very interesting when he was on the support side.
I believe neither organization OCTAX and Lincoln Club members were aware of the actions taken on ball arguments against GG by Wayne Lindholm and Carolyn Cavecche asked anybody before they signed or reviewed and information about the tax or Stanton’s economic crisis,” Shawver stated.
And while GOP-connected political consultants – Custom Campaigns – have been implicated in the effort to mount opposition to the tax, neither of the firms’ main consultants – Chris Emami and Chris Nguyen - are talking about their firm’s role in the controversy.
Nguyen – who is currently also employed as a legislative aide for County Supervisor Todd Spitzer – only responded to a request for comment after being pressed by Spitzer to publicly answer questions.
“I had nothing to do with the signature gathering,” Nguyen said, after Spitzer asked him to respond to a reporter’s questions. Nguyen declined to discuss the role of Custom Campaigns in the controversy but didn’t dispute his firm was involved.