Central California

Kern County supervisor criminally charged in connection with marijuana conflict of interest

Prosecutors have filed two misdemeanor charges against county Supervisor Leticia Perez regarding a conflict of interest between her role as supervisor and the California marijuana industry in what’s believed to be the first time a sitting supervisor has been criminally charged in Kern County.

District Attorney Lisa Green said the charges carry a maximum sentence of up to six months for each count, and one of the counts carries an additional potential punishment barring her from running for an elected office for four years. It would be up to a judge to decide whether to impose that ban.

Perez, 41, is set to be arraigned Wednesday.

Her attorney, H.A. Sala said the evidence does not support any alleged violations on the part of his client.

“The Kern County District Attorney’s office does not have a single email, text message, transcript or any reliable statement that Supervisor Perez’s decision on the cannabis vote was in any way compromised,” he said. “Supervisor Perez has always executed her official duties objectively, legally and in the best interests of her constituents and the residents of Kern County.”

Sala said the prosecution has based its case on “unreliable, unsubstantiated and conclusory statements” and he intends to vigorously defend these charges.

Green declined to go into detail regarding the investigation as the case is ongoing. She said Perez is not legally required to step down due to the charges, and any decision to leave office at this point is her own.

The first count states Perez “did make, participate in making or attempt to use her official position to influence a governmental decision in which she knew or had reason to know she had a financial interest … .”

Perez’s husband, Fernando Jara, owns Savage Communications, a consulting firm that has done some work on marijuana policy for several clients.

On Oct. 24, 2017, Perez was the sole supervisor to vote against a motion banning commercial cannabis.

In May, following comments regarding her potential conflict of interest, Perez announced she would no longer vote on issues related to the local licensing of cannabis operations.

The second count against Perez states that on April 3, 2017, she failed to file a statement “disclosing her investments, interests in real property, and income during the period of 2016,” also a misdemeanor.

The investigation also looked into allegations made against Supervisor Mike Maggard but found no wrongdoing on his part.

“I am grateful for the thorough investigation by the District Attorney’s office and the thoughtful conclusion from the DA exonerating me of these false accusations,” Maggard said in an emailed statement.

“We now need the justice system to follow its process to conclusion in order to remove corruption, self-serving influence, and suspicion from our local government. The people of our community deserve nothing less.”

Jara has said he got a job early in 2017 doing research for statewide medical marijuana interests who were interested in investing in the Central Valley.

He said he did profiles on marijuana businesses, the politics of the issue and potential for investment. He said he would also help arrange meetings between people in the industry.

He said he didn’t take any money for work in Kern County.

During a press conference held at his H Street office, Sala compared Perez’s case to that of another local politician who faced conflict-of-interest accusations.

Smith was accused of attempting “to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he had a financial interest” by addressing the Bakersfield Planning Commission on Dec. 4, 2014, on behalf of a client, the SB/RBLI Land Company LLC.

He agreed with and did not contest allegations made by the Fair Political Practices Commission’s enforcement division, and paid a $3,000 fine.

Sala noted that Smith, a “Caucasion male who is politically popular,” was not prosecuted in connection with the same allegations faced by his client, who is Hispanic.

“What does that tell you?” Sala said.

Perez, elected to the board of supervisors in 2012, is serving her third term in office.

She graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2000 and worked as a community banker at Wells Fargo Bank until 2003 before heading to the Valparaiso University School of Law, where she graduated with her law degree in 2006.

She worked as a deputy political director for the United Farm Workers of America in Keene from 2007 to 2008 when she joined the Kern County Public Defender’s office as an indigent defense attorney.

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