Ref Rodriguez

LAUSD Gets New President Amid Former President's Criminal Case

Monica Garcia is taking over after former president Ref Rodriguez was charged with more than two dozen criminal counts

On a 4-3 vote, Monica Garcia was chosen Tuesday as president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, replacing Ref Rodriguez, who resigned from the post after being charged with falsifying a campaign finance disclosure form.

Rodriguez remains on the seven-member board, but stepped aside as its president, saying he did not want to be a distraction.

Garcia was elected on what might be called a party-line vote, with a block of four members generally supportive of charter school expansion first voting down a nomination for board member Richard Vladovic then approving Garcia's selection.

Rodriguez, Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez all joined Garcia in backing her nomination, while George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson and Vladovic opposed her.

Garcia's election as president had been expected. The longest-serving member of the board announced Friday she was leaving her job with the Los Angeles County Probation Department so she could serve on the LAUSD board full- time.

Garcia asked Melvoin to serve as the board's vice president, and he accepted.

Rodriguez, 46, was charged earlier this month 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.

Rodriguez was also charged with 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

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 city Ethics Commission documents, shortly after Rodriguez began his campaign for the school board seat in November 2014, Rodriguez gave $26,000 of his own money to Melendrez and told her to funnel the money into his campaign by asking relatives to make donations. Melendrez enticed 25 relatives and friends to make the donations, then reimbursed them with Rodriguez's money, according to the commission.

Rodriguez filed a campaign disclosure statement on Jan. 12, 2015, and it included the 25 donations that had been reimbursed.

"In that statement, Rodriguez certified under penalty of perjury that he had raised a total of $51,001 in contributions from other people. However, nearly half of the reported funds were actually Rodriguez's own money," according to the Ethics Commission.

Rodriguez said he has been working with the commission to resolve the issue for nearly two years.

"As the product of an immigrant family, nobody has more respect for the integrity of the American justice system than I do," Rodriguez said. "I have cooperated with authorities and hope these issues will be resolved expeditiously and fairly."

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