California Senator Rod Wright Resigns in Wake of Sentencing in Voter Fraud Case

The Democrat was convicted of perjury, voter fraud and filing a false statement of candidacy for lying about his legal residence in Los Angeles County

State Sen. Rod Wright resigned after being sentenced to 3 months for lying about his residency, The Associated Press reported.

California State Sen. Rod Wright was sentenced to 90 days in Los Angeles County jail for lying about his legal residence.

Wright was also ordered Friday to complete 1,500 hours of community service and will be on probation for three years. He was ordered to surrender on Oct. 31 to begin the jail sentence, handed down for the Democrat's conviction on perjury charges in January for lying about his residence in the first of three unrelated cases against state lawmakers that cast a shadow over the Legislature.

Prosecutors had wanted Wright, elected to the State Senate in 2008, to serve six months of confinement. Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd claimed Wright "concocted a pretense  agreement to create a facade of residency" at a property he owns in Inglewood  in preparation to run for his state Senate seat.

Prosecutors argued that Wright actually lived at a Baldwin Hills house between  2007 and 2009 -- the time period cited in the charges.

Wright's attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said his client did nothing intentionally wrong and deserves a new trial. McKesson said Wright should be sentenced to nothing more than informal probation.

The lawmaker had "established domicile" at the Inglewood property where his  stepmother was renting a unit, defense attorneys argued. Wright did not speak at Friday morning's sentencing hearing, but said during the trial that he suggested he and his stepmother share a house after he learned that she was renting out the unit he intended to occupy, telling  jurors he made it clear to her that he would be "coming and going."

Wright said he moved in his personal items, including toiletries,  clothing and some books, and changed his voter registration to establish  domicile at the Inglewood property, and did not consider the Baldwin Hills  property to be his primary residence.

Under cross-examination, Wright maintained that he had "fixed  habitation" at the Inglewood property, describing habitation as a "place  where you have a legal right to be."

"Habitation, in my mind, means a place I can stay if I choose to,"  Wright said under questioning by Dodd during the trial.

Prosecutors said in a court filing last month that Wright's actions "can only worsen the already jaded public perception of politicians."

That image has taken several blows this year. After Wright's conviction in January, federal prosecutors filed corruption charges against two other Democratic state senators, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco.

The Senate suspended all three with pay in March, ending Democrats' two-thirds majority in the 40-member chamber -- a supermajority that had allowed them to act without any support from Republicans. Wright faces possible expulsion from the Senate.

In another case, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, was arrested last month on suspicion of drunken driving. That means 10 percent of the state Senate is facing legal challenges.

Wright was convicted of perjury, voter fraud and filing a false statement of candidacy for lying about his legal residence in Los Angeles County. He had said he moved into an Inglewood property he owned so he could run in 2008 to represent the 25th Senate District, but jurors found that Wright actually lived outside the district.

Because of redistricting, he currently represents the 35th Senate District.

Despite a requirement that state lawmakers live in their districts, several members of both parties do not, yet the decision on whether to pursue charges is left up to local prosecutors. Members of Congress have no residency requirement.

The charges against Wright carry a maximum sentence of more than eight years in prison. Prosecutors said that with anything less than a half-year of confinement, "the perception will be that politicians are treated differently, due to connections or money, in the justice system."

But McKesson, Wright's attorney, said his client believed he was acting within the law and that jurors were confused between Wright's legal residence within the district and his home outside it. Moreover, jurors may have been left with a poor impression because prosecutors played up that Wright owns a Maserati and a Jaguar, he said.

"People are just distrustful of politicians, and then when you're talking about a politician who has done well financially, that just rubs people the wrong way," McKesson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They say, 'I don't have a Maserati, why does he have a Maserati?'"

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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