It’s OC’s biggest election-related criminal case in years: 33 total felony charges against three people – including a former candidate for county supervisor – for allegedly submitting forged signatures to try to get a recall on the ballot against a Democrat councilwoman in Buena Park.
County election workers noticed there was an abnormal rate of invalid signatures of voters on the ballot petition filings late 2019 – about half of all signatures submitted.
District Attorney investigators then followed up to look into the issue.
Charges were filed in a public court document more than three months ago.
Though DA Todd Spitzer – whose office routinely highlights major criminal cases – hasn’t made any public announcement about it.
It all stems from a 2019 recall effort against Sunny Park, a Democrat who at the time was a Buena Park councilwoman.
[Click here to read the criminal charges document prosecutors filed in court.]
“I hope this case will establish more transparency in our local election system and restore the trust of voters,” Park told Voice of OC.
“To that end, I hope at trial OCDA can prove who falsified the signatures and expose all who were culpable.”
The defendants are Michael Mahony (12 felony counts), his daughter Ashley Mahony (11 felony counts) – and his wife Victoria Primrose (10 felony counts).
All three have pleaded not guilty, according to court records. Their attorneys either declined to comment or did not respond to a message for comment.
Mahony ran for county supervisor in 2018 against then-Supervisor Michelle Steel, and was described in news reports at the time as Republican or Libertarian. He helped lead the recall effort against Park.
Recall organizers needed to collect 1,877 signatures from local voters in order to get the recall on the ballot.
They turned in 2,106.
But only about half of those signatures were found to be valid when county election officials checked.
Normally, there’s a certain amount of signatures that are invalid – but this was far higher than county election officials usually see. So county Registrar of Voters officials looked into it further, according to court records.
They found that almost 700 signatures didn’t match with what was on file for those voters.
DA investigators were brought in. And in their charging document, prosecutors say they discovered a criminal conspiracy.
At a pizza shop.
On their last day finalizing the recall petitions in October 2019, prosecutors wrote, the defendants gathered at a local pizza spot to go over the paperwork.
According to the court document, Michael Mahony previously told signature gatherers to turn in the petitions without the required signature of the person who witnessed voters signing the petitions.
The three defendants then told other people to sign under penalty of perjury that they witnessed the signatures being collected from voters – when in fact they knew they did not, according to prosecutors.
Michael Mahony allegedly pressured them into it.
“Michael Mahony indicated that the employees would not be paid for their canvassing efforts until all the petitions were filled out,” the court filing states.
“While at the restaurant, Michael Mahony, Ashley Mahony, and Victoria Primrose filled out stacks of petitions with forged signatures and falsely certified, under penalty of perjury, that they were the circulators who collected the purportedly valid signatures,” the filing adds.
They then handed “the knowingly false petitions” to another recall supporter to be turned into the city clerk, which he did, according to the filing.
All three defendants are accused of “willfully and unlawfully [stating] as true a material matter which the defendant knew was false.”
What were those falsehoods, according to prosecutors?
“That defendant circulated the petition, witnessed the signatures on the petition being written, and that to the best of defendant’s information and belief each signature was the genuine signature of the person whose name it purported to be,” states their court filing.
Park herself was charged in 2018 with misdemeanor petty theft over accusations she stole campaign signs critical of her during that year’s election.
The recall organizers pointed to those charges as a central theme in their arguments for why Park should be removed from office.
The case against Park was later dismissed in December 2019 after a jury deadlocked on whether to convict her.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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