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District Attorney Asked to Investigate Suspected Voter Fraud : Elections: Questionable registrations are found in spot checks in Burbank and Pasadena, Registrar-Recorder Beatriz Valdez reports.

October 26, 1994|FREDERICK M. MUIR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Beatriz Valdez on Tuesday said her office has uncovered pockets of fraudulent voter registrations in Burbank, Pasadena and other locations around the county and she has forwarded the results of a preliminary investigation to the district attorney for possible criminal prosecution.

Valdez found that a quarter of the 143 people registered at one Burbank apartment complex by paid agents, known as "bounty hunters" in the political campaign trade, were questionable and probably fraudulent. Similar findings were uncovered at a Pasadena location.

Normally, only about 4% of registrations are found to be questionable in spot checks by the registrar, officials said. Among the reasons for invalidating some of the registrations were improper signatures, underage applicants and lack of residency or citizenship.

The questionable registration forms from Burbank and Pasadena had been issued to the Assembly Statewide Voter Registration Committee.

Alison Harvey, chief of staff to Assemblyman Phillip Isenberg (D-Sacramento), who heads the committee, acknowledged that there may have been a problem with two employees identified in the registrar's report. She said the committee had not been contacted by either the district attorney or the registrar regarding the registrations, but added that the committee will cooperate in any investigation.

The fraud charge became involved in the campaign pitting state Assemblyman James Rogan (R-Glendale) against Democratic challenger Adam Schiff for the 43rd District Assembly seat.

Natalie Blanning, spokeswoman for Rogan, said Schiff must bear some responsibility for the problems in Burbank.

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, contributed $7,500 to help finance the Democratic campaign that engaged in the alleged registration fraud in Burbank.

Blanning contended that Schiff should have known the Isenberg-organized program had previously been implicated in fraud in the San Joaquin Valley and that paying registration workers an $8 to $9 bounty for each new voter recruited "was an open invitation to fraud."

But Parke Skelton, campaign consultant to Schiff, rejected any blame for Schiff, whom he said urged authorities to investigate as soon as the registration problems surfaced.

Schiff only contributed his money to the $1.2-million statewide registration drive run by Isenberg, and had no day-to-day dealings with the portion of the drive that dealt with the 43rd District, Skelton said.

"That was the extent of his involvement in this matter," he said.

Another organization investigated by the registrar, the Diverse Strategic Organization, also was found to have submitted a high number of improper voter registration forms.

In a check of 1,300 registrations filed by this group, about 12% contained incorrect information or listed an unusable address. Nearly 70% of the questionnaires mailed by the registrar to check on accuracy of the registrations were not returned. That is about double the usual rate, according to Darlene Bonds, assistant registrar-recorder, and will be among the statistics brought to the attention of the district attorney.

Victor Griego, who identified himself as the manager of Diverse Strategic, would not comment on the registrar's allegations.

Alan Field, the deputy district attorney who heads the special investigations division that probes public corruption, said he had not yet seen the registrar's report, but added, "I'd be very interested to see it."

Under state law, the registrar must issue voter registration forms to virtually any group that requests them. It is routine to issue thousands of cards at a time to these political and civic organizations, according to Bonds.

Many of the organizations, including those cited in the report, pay canvassers to sign up voters. Often they are paid by the card, or "bounty," as a registration form is referred to in the trade.

Harvey said that her organization ran about 15 crews of 10 to 12 workers each in the state this year, registering 223,540 new voters. Some workers were paid a flat rate of $6 an hour, others $2.50 per registration.

Harvey said her group does a spot check of about 10% of the cards turned in by canvassers, to try to weed out problems. "They're stealing from us, too," when the canvassers bring in bogus registrations, Harvey said.

"It never fails in this sort of drive that someone will do this," said Harvey.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who asked the registrar to investigate the allegations that were brought to his attention by constituents, said he believes the problem is widespread. He said he suspects many illegal immigrants are registering to vote.

"The district attorney has to make this a top priority," said Antonovich.

But Harvey said the allegations may be more politically motivated. "We've been very successful in registering Democrats this year," said Harvey.

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