SANTA ANA — In a case that cuts to the heart of California's GOP leadership, a grand jury on Friday indicted state Assemblyman Scott Baugh, the Orange County Republican whose tainted election victory allowed the party to seize control of the Legislature's lower house.
Baugh, of Huntington Beach, was charged with four felonies, including falsifying campaign reports and persuading another person to commit perjury. He also was charged with 18 misdemeanors for allegedly concealing the source of campaign money.
The grand jury also charged Rhonda Carmony, campaign manager for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, with orchestrating a GOP scheme to manipulate the Nov. 28 special election for the 67th Assembly seat in Baugh's favor. Also indicted was Baugh's chief of staff, Maureen Werft, who, grand jurors say, lied on her ballot application and voted in Baugh's election even though she did not live in his district.
The charges against Baugh, 33, culminated an investigation that has laid out in extraordinary detail the lengths to which GOP operatives were willing to go to secure the ouster of maverick Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) and Baugh's victory--in order to take control of the Assembly.
After the hearing, Baugh stood outside Superior Court Judge David O. Carter's courtroom and denounced Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi. He accused Capizzi of timing the indictment to fall just days before Tuesday's primary election, when Baugh faces two Republican challengers.
"This is obviously a political ploy," Baugh said. "It's a witch hunt, and it's politically motivated to be brought . . . days before an election.
"The voters of the 67th Assembly District demanded conservative leadership in that district," Baugh said. "I'm that true conservative and am voting that true conservative platform. And Mr. Capizzi and the district attorney's office don't like that."
Capizzi responded that prosecutors had targeted corruption of the electoral process and were enforcing a law enacted by initiative--the Political Reform Act.
"Fair and honest elections are the cornerstone of a democracy, and that is something we take seriously," he said. "This is Orange County, California. . . . We are not Chicago."
Carmony, Werft and their attorneys declined to comment Friday.
Still unanswered is how much two of the county's top elected officials--Rohrabacher and Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle--knew about a GOP scheme allegedly orchestrated by some of their closest aides.
Pringle figured prominently in a detailed, 65-page affidavit released Thursday in which investigators laid out their version of the scheme. Three GOP operatives, including a former Pringle aide, pleaded guilty this month in connection with the plan to draft Laurie Campbell as the second Democrat in the race to draw votes away from Baugh's main Democratic opponent.
All three named Carmony as a leader of the effort. Campbell told investigators under oath that Baugh had said Pringle gave his "blessing" to the scheme.
Pringle, Rohrabacher, Baugh and Carmony repeatedly have denied wrongdoing.
Friday morning, prosecutors were tight-lipped about the future of the investigation. But they made it clear they were not stopping with Baugh.
"This investigation is not over," said Deputy Dist. Atty. John Conley. "It is continuing."
The Baugh investigation has driven a wedge into the state GOP, with some state leaders calling for the resignation of Capizzi, a fellow Republican.
Baugh, Carmony and Werft surrendered Friday morning in Orange County Superior Court. Baugh, wearing a double-breasted blue blazer, strode into court holding hands with his girlfriend, Wendy Ward, whose campaign loan to Baugh figures prominently in the indictment.
Carter released Baugh and the others without bond. The judge agreed to wait until after Tuesday's election to order booking photographs of the three, saying he did not want the photos to turn up in any campaign literature of Baugh's opponents.
If convicted, Baugh faces as much as seven years in state prison.
The indictments, though largely anticipated since Thursday's affidavit, brought a thunderous reaction from leaders in both political parties.
"This is obvious political grandstanding by Capizzi," said Michael Schroeder, the state GOP's vice chairman. "Any doubts regarding the honesty and integrity of his office have now been dispelled by the fact that he waited until Friday before election day in order to take these actions, knowing full well that Baugh would not have a fair opportunity to respond before election day."
Assembly Republicans rallied around Baugh after the indictment, professing his innocence. They predicted the indictments would not harm GOP efforts to reelect Baugh, maintain control of the Assembly and push through a conservative agenda.
"Scott Baugh has said he is innocent of these charges," Pringle said in a prepared statement. "When all the facts are made known, I'm confident that a jury of his peers will reach that same conclusion."