LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board gave up his position Tuesday after he and his cousin were charged with perjury and other felonies for allegedly funneling $25,000 of his own money into his campaign.
Refugio Rodriguez will remain on the school board, but said he would step aside as president so the board can stay “focused on the hard work ahead of us.”
“When I was elected board president, I committed to highlighting the Kids First agenda for L.A. Unified,” Rodriguez said. “I remain committed to putting kids first, and so, in order to allow the board to remain focused on the hard work ahead of us, I have decided to step aside as board president.”
Monica Garcia serves as the board’s vice president.
Rodriguez, 46, was charged last week with more than two dozen criminal counts for allegedly reimbursing nearly $25,000 to donors he listed on a campaign finance form. He was charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
His cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.
According to prosecutors, Rodriguez raised over $50,000 during the initial campaign reporting period ending in Dec. 2014 and 25 donors – mostly family and friends – were allegedly paid back $24,250 by Rodriguez and Melendrez.
A statement from LAUSD attorneys said the “allegations are not connected to any District business” and pledged cooperation with the investigation.
Melendrez’s attorney, Mark Werksman, called the criminal charges “much ado about nothing.”
“We are surprised this has risen to the level of a criminal prosecution,” he said, calling it “mystifying” that county prosecutors would bring a case “over such a small amount of money so long ago.”
Arraignment for Rodriguez was postponed until Oct. 24.
Both he and Melendrez remain free on their own recognizance.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)