Orange County District Attorney officials are investigating a case of alleged forgery in Stanton involving a number of key OC GOP insiders who led a failed effort to kill a new public safety tax proposal on this month's ballot.
Stanton voters ultimately approved Measure GG – which would add a one-cent sales tax to help fund public safety – by a 54.6 percent to 45.4 margin earlier this month.
An internal city review in September first determined there was a forged signature on ballot arguments against the measure.
That prompted one longtime OC GOP activist in Stanton, Steven Sarkis, to sign an affidavit saying his signature had indeed been forged.
“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 has not returned calls seeking further comment.
Also at the center of the controversy Chris Emami and Chris Nguyen, who run Custom Campaigns, a Republican-leaning consulting firm that led the effort to gather signatures and submit documents to Stanton’s city clerk, according to those close to the matter.
Nguyen also works as a county staffer for County Supervisor Todd Spitzer. While Nguyen denied any involvement personally after being pressed by Spitzer to talk to the press, neither he nor Emami will discuss how a forged signature came to be on documents their firm submitted.
With public safety pension costs steadily rising and putting pressure on public budgets, Stanton apparently became 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.
Given that Stanton's general fund is chronically on the verge of a deficit, Shawver and other supporters of the tax said it was integral to maintaining public order.
Yet critics, such as the Lincoln Club’s President Wayne Lindholm, attacked the budget gap as a ruse to cover up big salaries at city hall.
Former Orange mayor and OC Taxpayers Association CEO Carolyn Cavecche, Lindholm and Ed Sachs of the publication, Community Common Sense, all led the signatures against the initiative.
Given how many top local GOP insiders were involved in the effort, city leaders at first wanted to avoid sending it to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas because of his close ties to the local party establishment.
So they referred it to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which would have benefited from adoption of the public safety tax because the department has a contract to patrol Stanton.
Sheriff’s officials quickly referred the matter to the California Secretary of State’s office.
Last month, officials at that agency advised Stanton city leaders they had found no criminal election code violation in the matter.
However, the investigative services section of the secretary of state’s office advised city leaders they still might want to seek forgery charges
“If you believe that fraud or other criminal acts such as forgery or filing false documents of record, etc. have been committed, such matters should be referred to the local authorities or the District Attorney’s office in the county where the fraudulent acts allegedly occurred,” stated the Oct. 6 letter sent to Stanton City Clerk Patricia Vasquez, which was released after a public records request.
That’s exactly what city leaders have now done.
“We’ve received the complaint and it’s under review,” said Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Lubinski.
Stanton officials are hoping the district attorney moves forward with what seems to be a simple case.
“It’s my hope that the District Attorney’s office will carefully review what appears to be a crime against the community of Stanton and if that the allegations are found to be true that the district attorney takes action,” said Shawver this week.
“To me, forgery is still against the law,” Shawver said.
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 later this month.