Los Angeles Unified School District board member Ref Rodriguez is expected to admit to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission Monday that he executed a money laundering scheme to further his 2015 campaign, and will agree to pay a $100,000 fine.
According to a proposed stipulation set to be voted on by the Ethics Commission, Rodriguez and his cousin, Elizabeth Melendrez, admit they reimbursed 25 political contributions to Rodriguez’s campaign committee, violating the City Charter’s “prohibition against political money laundering.”
The 46-year-old Rodriguez is also due in court Monday for a preliminary hearing in his criminal case stemming from the alleged campaign-fund laundering scheme. He is facing three felony and 25 misdemeanor counts — including perjury, conspiracy and falsifying documents — based on allegations he lied about the source of $25,000 in contributions to his school board campaign and solicited donations with a promise to reimburse the donors.
The criminal case against Rodriguez stemmed from a whistleblower complaint given to the Ethics Commission in 2015 about his fund-raising activities, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Melendrez is also charged in the case, facing one felony count and 25 misdemeanors.
It was not immediately clear whether Rodriguez plans to enter a plea agreement with prosecutors Monday to resolve the criminal case, although city documents state that both he and Melendrez “wish to enter into a global resolution with the Ethics Commission and the DA’s (District Attorney’s) Office.”
It was also unclear whether his admission to the Ethics Commission would affect his seat on the Board of Education. A spokeswoman for the LAUSD declined to comment, since the matter pertained to Rodriguez’s campaign.
Neither Rodriguez nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
“I am a dedicated public servant and I have faith in the truth,” Rodriguez said in October 2017. “I believe in the integrity of our justice system where I will respond to the allegations.”
Prosecutors allege Rodriguez raised more than $50,000 during the first campaign reporting period that ended in December 2014 and that 25 donors — most of whom were family members and friends — were allegedly paid back $24,250 by Rodriguez and Melendrez.
The donors’ names had been listed on a campaign finance report that was allegedly signed by Rodriguez under the penalty of perjury and submitted to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. Rodriguez would have been allowed by law to donate the money to his own campaign directly, but the alleged scheme could have been an effort to make his financial support from donors look stronger than it really was.
According to Ethics Commission documents, shortly after Rodriguez began his campaign for the school board seat in November 2014, he “provided $26,000 of his own money to Melendrez, his cousin and a key campaign volunteer, with instructions to funnel that money into his campaign account by asking family members to make contributions.”
Rodriguez said at the time he was charged that he and his attorneys had been working to resolve the issues with the Ethics Commission for more than two years.
Rodriguez was elected in 2015 to the District 5 seat on the LAUSD board, representing areas including Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Los Feliz, Mount Washington and Silver Lake. He is a co-founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities, a series of charter schools in northeast Los Angeles and the northeastern San Fernando Valley.
Rodriguez stepped down from his position as school board president in September 2017 after the allegations came to light but remained on the board.