Vernon Election Overturned; Hearing Officer Finds Out-Of-Towners Illegally Tipped Result
A hearing officer today ruled that illegal, out-of-town voters supplied the winning margin in a city council election in Vernon -- the tiny industrial city with a long history of corruption.
Reno Bellamy was initially declared the winner in June by a narrow margin, 34-30. But the hearing officer, Debra Wong Yang, ruled today that seven of his votes were illegally cast. She awarded the victory to his opponent, Luz Martinez.
The Weekly reported last week on the bizarre plot to steal the election, in a report drawn from testimony at a three-day city hearing last month.
The Vernon Chamber of Commerce challenged the outcome, contending that a group of ringers had conspired to steal the election for Bellamy.
"This shows the claims we raised were true," said Fred Woocher, the Chamber's attorney. "The election had originally been stolen."
It also shows, he said, that "the people of Vernon really will fight for the right to have a clean election there."
Asked for comment on the ruling today, Bellamy told the Weekly, "I don't got time for you today."
Bellamy's attorney, Joe Maher, has previously said that he would challenge Yang's ruling in court.
Woocher said that it is now time for the L.A. County district attorney to investigate voter fraud. David Demerjian, the head of the D.A.'s public integrity division, said today that his office has received the allegations, and that an inquiry is open. However, he said the city's hearing "has no bearing on anything we do."
The Chamber challenged the ballots of nine Bellamy voters. In her ruling, Yang found that two of those ballots were legitimately cast, but that seven were illegal. Five were discarded because the voters did not live in Vernon, and two were thrown out because the voters gave them to someone else to drop off, instead of mailing them or delivering them personally as the law requires.
As the Weekly reported last week, the illegal voters had ties to ex-Councilman Dan Newmire, Councilman Rick Maisano and Curtis Fresch, who was once a consultant to the city earning $330,000 a year. Fresch is also the brother of Eric Fresch, a former consultant who fell to his death in June, on the same day that a state audit lambasted his handling of Vernon's affairs.
The story quoted Steve Freed, a City Hall watchdog, who alleged that Curtis Fresch and his allies were attempting to regain control of the city.
Update: In a statement, Luz Martinez said, "Our city's municipal reforms are working as they were intended and those who cast illegal votes in our city have been denied in their bid to tilt the results of an important municipal election... Today is a joyous day in Vernon."
Marisa Olguin, the president of the Vernon Chamber, called the ruling "a huge victory for the residents of Vernon," and called on the D.A. to "hold those criminally accountable for their poor attempt to manipulate the integrity of the electoral process."
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