DA To Investigate Salinas City Council Candidate for Alleged Perjury
November 5, 2012
More than a year ago, Alisal Union School District board president Jose Castañeda pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge that he'd violated election code by failing to properly deliver paperwork in a failed recall effort against Supervisor Fernando Armenta.
Now, as Castañeda faces the final days of his campaign for Salinas City Council, he's leveraging similar allegations of paperwork flubs against one of his two opponents, Margie Wiebusch. And the District Attorney is preparing to conduct a preliminary investigation later this week.
To run for council, candidates are required to submit 20 nominating signatures from voters in their district. Wiebusch turned in 28, and eight voters turned out to live outside her East Salinas district, leaving her just enough to qualify for the ballot.
But the sticking point for Castañeda has been an affidavit at the bottom of the three-page signature form, which Wiebusch signed under penalty of perjury, that reads, "I circulated this petition and I witnessed the signatures on this section of the nomination papers being written."
Armenta and his wife, Noemi, are among the 20 valid signatures on Wiebusch's nomination form—but Armenta says he didn't even meet the candidate until about a month after she filed those papers, something Wiebusch confirms.
Armenta remembers Evamarie Martinez, a board member at Salinas Union High School District, knocking on his door to gather signatures. Wiebusch says she stayed in the car outside Armenta's office making phone calls, while Martinez and Elia Gonzalez-Castro walked up with the clipboard.
Armenta's not endorsing any candidate in that three-way council race, which also includes correctional officer Josh Kuzmicz. Current District 1 Councilman Sergio Sanchez failed to qualify for a re-election bid after his nomination papers turned out to be short of 20 valid signatures, and he's running for mayor instead.
After Sanchez's filing error, the city clerk extended the filing period, leaving last-minute candidates like Wiebusch and Castaneda just a day to collect all the signatures they needed to run.
Castañeda first complained to Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz in passing at Rollick's Coffee in Oldtown Salinas last month. Spitz recommended filing a complaint with the Elections Department, which Castañeda never did.
Spitz says he'll wait until the election madness dies down, then he'll likely ask the Elections Department for relevant documents. "We should probably take the initiative if Mr. Castañeda’s not going to," he says.
Potential charges would be the same as those Castañeda himself faced last year: felonies of perjury and submitting a false document.
Monterey County Registrar of Voters Linda Tulett rolls her eyes when asked about the petition rules, questioning the credibility of Castañeda as an accuser—and the significance of probing the matter at all.
Even if the DA finds that a representative collected some of Wiebusch's signatures on her behalf, she'd still qualify for the ballot. "The voters had the intention to nominate her," Tulett says. "You don't penalize the voter."
The state petition manual guides election officials to liberally construe the law in favor of voters, and Tulett says it's a reasonable expectation that those who signed Wiebusch's papers—whether she herself was present or not—believed they were honestly supporting her run for council.
Wiebusch maintains her signatures are valid. "I wish I had known back then that I should walk it, but the law doesn’t say that that’s what you have to do," she says. "I was there."
On the even of Election Day, she's feeling good about her prospects and the campaign. "Jose has not campaigned at all," she says. "Maybe it’s just easier to come up with something [like these allegations]. It’s just really frustrating to me."