Orange County District Attorney’s Office is making inquiries into allegations of what is essentially an attempted bribe by Westminster Mayor Tri Ta to keep Councilwoman Margie Rice, his opponent in the November election, from running against him, according to a lawyer involved in a lawsuit against the city.
Rice told a Voice of OC reporter last week that Ta, through an intermediary, informed her that if she would stay out of the mayor’s race he would make a $10,000 campaign contribution to her daughter, Anita Rice, who is running for a seat on the board of Midway Sanitary District. Rice would not say who the intermediary was.
The DA’s inquiry into the matter was prompted by a claim filed against the city by housing coordinator Tami Piscotty, which alleges workplace harassment and retaliation for whistleblowing.
“I am aware that two council members have met with another council member to induce that person not to run for elected office in November 2016,” Piscotty wrote at the end of a detailed 14-page claim about her demotion from assistant city manager to housing coordinator.
Under state election code, attempting to coerce or compel another individual to run, or not to run, for public office is a felony punishable by imprisonment.
City Manager Eddie Manfro said following Piscotty’s complaint in mid-August, the allegations regarding Ta were turned over to the DA. Piscotty has been interviewed by both the DA’s office and the FBI, said Dennis Wagner, Piscotty’s lawyer.
Wagner represents three other city employees who filed recent claims against the city.
The DA’s office declined to comment through spokeswoman Roxi Fyad. The spokeswoman for FBI operations in Los Angeles, Laura Eimiller, said the agency does not confirm or deny any investigations.
Anita Rice, who is a city planning commissioner, is running to join her mother and Councilman Tyler Diep on the Sanitary District board. A Westminster city employee, Facilities Supervisor Frank Cobo, is also on the board.
Ta has denied the allegations entirely, saying: “I never talked to [Rice] about her campaign or her daughter’s campaign.”
“I never, I never, I never, I never said anything like that. I am really surprised,” Ta said, adding that he has not seen Piscotty’s complaint and has not been approached by either the DA or FBI.
Rice and Ta are locked in a heated race for mayor. With warnings that the city could go bankrupt in three years’ time, Rice is supporting a controversial ballot measure that would increase the city’s sales tax by one cent. Ta, meanwhile, has indicated that he is against any tax increases.
The city employee unions have poured thousands of dollars to promote the tax measure, which would prevent major staffing cuts to a city that laid off nearly a third of its employees in 2012.
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