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Rohrabacher Spurned on Voter Probe

August 21, 1998|ERIC BAILEY

State Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren has refused an Orange County congressman's request to reopen an investigation of a 1996 voter registration scandal, concluding that local prosecutors had conducted a "thorough and professional" probe.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) had raised concerns in April about the Orange County district attorney's investigation of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a Latino rights group accused of registering immigrants to vote before they were sworn in as citizens.

Gary W. Schons, a senior assistant attorney general writing on Lungren's behalf, told Rohrabacher in a letter Wednesday that a thorough review found that the district attorney's office had pursued an aggressive and unbiased path in seeking indictments of key players. Those efforts were rejected by an Orange County grand jury.

The district attorney submitted to the grand jury "the strongest, most reliable evidence it had concerning individual criminal conduct," Schons wrote.

After the grand jury declined to hand up indictments based upon a lower burden of proof than required at trial, Schons said, it was reasonable for the district attorney's office to "forgo direct prosecution" by filing charges on its own.

The investigation stemmed from accusations by former U.S. Rep. Robert K. Dornan that illegally cast votes, mainly from noncitizens, caused him to lose a narrow race to Garden Grove Democrat Loretta Sanchez. His challenge to the election was turned down by the House, which didn't find enough illegal votes to overturn the results.

Schons' letter also rejected Rohrabacher's concerns about a possible conflict of interest involving Assistant Dist. Atty. Wallace J. Wade, who headed up the Hermandad investigation and later ran for district attorney.

During an unsuccessful run for district attorney earlier this year, Wade hired Michael Farber as his political consultant. Farber rented an office from Hermandad and supported one of its officials, Nativo Lopez, for a seat on the Santa Ana Unified School District board.

Schons pointed out that Wade met Farber several weeks after the Hermandad investigation was concluded. In addition, Wade's lieutenants directed the day-to-day probe and grand jury presentation, Schons said in his letter.

In a closing paragraph, Schons said that a state investigation came across additional evidence and turned it over to county prosecutors for possible investigation. He refused to say what that evidence might be.

Rohrabacher, who supported Wade's opponent in the June election, could not be reached for comment. Wade lost the election to Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Rackauckas.

Wade said Thursday that he was pleased with the conclusions drawn by the attorney general but suggested the whole thing has been a waste of time.

"It's unfortunate that the attorney general had to go through the exercise, but I guess when a congressman writes, you have to do it," Wade said.

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