Photo by Jack GouldIn their report released last month, the Orange County grand jury produced a catalog of cronies who have received favors from District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. The DA removed from his office's consumer-fraud lawsuit the name of bazillionaire developer George Argyros—then under consideration for the post he now holds, U.S. ambassador to Spain. He gave a gun to Patrick N. DiCarlo, a Newport Beach businessman who says he's being harassed by Rackauckas' squad of mob investigators. He created without authority a staff position for a reporter who wrote a series of favorable articles during his first successful campaign for the office in 1998. He let his wife, a prosecutor, intervene in management decisions.
The list goes on, and to that list, an Anaheim activist charges, we can add one more name: Anaheim City School District trustee Don Garcia.
Duane Roberts—Green Party activist, erstwhile Garcia booster, holder of a BA in criminology—says evidence he gathered proves Garcia falsely claimed an Anaheim address during his late-2000 campaign for the school board job. In the course of a few weeks of amateur sleuthing, Roberts tracked Garcia from the modest Anaheim neighborhood he listed on campaign documents to a million-dollar home in Corona del Mar.
In June, 16 months after Roberts turned over his evidence to the district attorney, the DA returned a verdict of sorts: not guilty.
“While there is significant evidence that Dr. Garcia is maintaining a residence in Corona del Mar, there is also evidence that he is domiciled in Anaheim,” Raymond S. Armstrong, a senior deputy DA, wrote Roberts. “I do not believe that a jury would convict Dr. Garcia of any criminal wrongdoing . . . and consequently I cannot legally or ethically bring criminal charges against him.”
“I respect the DA's decision not to prosecute Don Garcia, given the tough rules that apply to criminal cases,” Roberts said. “But in my opinion, based on the enormous amount of evidence that exists showing that Don Garcia doesn't live in Anaheim, the decision not to prosecute him was based on politics, not anything else.”
The politics: Garcia was backed throughout his campaign by Los Amigos of Orange County, the powerful Latino civic organization that was also, significantly, a key supporter of Rackauckas' 2002 re-election campaign.
Roberts turned private eye shortly after Garcia's late-2000 election to the Anaheim City School District board. That's when Garcia took a stand to fight booze sales near his community's schools.
Though his campaign was backed by civic groups, including Los Amigos—and even by Roberts himself—rumors began circulating that putting the cork in hooch sales would raise the value of Garcia's nearby properties.
Over the next few weeks, Roberts staked out Garcia's homes, videotaping his movements on the street, searching public records and tailing his car.
In the end, he uncovered something he wasn't looking for: Garcia didn't even live in Anaheim.
The investigation began at the Santa Ana offices of the county assessor and clerk-recorder. Working to identify property owners near one school, Roberts discovered that Garcia owned several undeveloped lots. More intriguingly, a certain Donald Garcia turned up as the owner of a $929,000 home—not in Anaheim, but in Corona del Mar.
Roberts drove to the county Registrar of Voters and inspected Garcia's campaign file. As he opened the folder, he says, a personal check signed by Garcia fell out of the file. The check bore a Corona del Mar address—the same address for the house the county recorder said belonged to Donald Garcia. Roberts showed the check to a clerk. The clerk told him he shouldn't have seen the check; it had been inadvertently left in the file.
“Had I not seen the check, I would not have pursued the case,” Roberts said. “It was very strong evidence of perjury because it was written the same day [Garcia] filed his declaration of candidacy statement. In all the other [campaign] paperwork in the file, he had claimed that he lived in Anaheim.”
At that point, most community activists or freelance investigators would have simply reported their discovery to the California Fair Political Practices Commission or the DA's office. But Roberts says he wanted more proof. So he went to the Anaheim address listed as Garcia's primary residence in all his paperwork; it always appeared empty.
Roberts claims he staked out Garcia's Corona del Mar house 15 times from January to February 2001. “All the time, there would be evidence of somebody there at the property,” Roberts said. “I would be right outside the house, usually at night. I noticed there was this older boy that was there, and I began to think that this kid was old enough to be in school. I could see the top of his head in the kitchen with Don and the maid. And I began to wonder, 'Where does this kid go to school?'”
After a few failed efforts, Roberts ultimately videotaped Garcia and the child. Reviewed by the Weekly, that tape clearly shows Garcia and a child leaving the Corona del Mar house and driving to nearby Harbor View Elementary School. At that point, the child leaves the car and walks onto the campus.
Along with the videotape, Roberts sent a five-page letter to the DA's office detailing his investigation and charging Garcia with violating Section 18203 of the California Election Code. The law states that “any person who files or submits for filing a declaration of candidacy knowing that it or any part of it has been made falsely is punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both.”
Roberts had proved his case—or so he thought. On June 13, 2002—16 months after he filed his complaint—the DA's office suddenly dropped its investigation of Garcia.
Garcia failed to return several calls seeking his comment for this story, but Roberts says he believes Garcia received kid-glove treatment from prosecutors because of his ties to Los Amigos. Says Roberts, “It's still not going to stop me from going after politicians who breach the public trust.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).