Santa Ana Councilman Ted R. Moreno, who is under federal indictment for alleged extortion and mail fraud, plans to resign from office in order to take advantage of an apparent loophole in the city's charter that limits council members to two terms. Moreno plans to then run for a new term next fall.
"There are a lot of people out there who still support me," Moreno said Wednesday.
The 32-year-old councilman, first elected in 1992, was due to be termed out this year just as his federal trial gets underway on allegations that he and three others conspired to extort campaign funds from local businessmen.
However, Moreno, who strongly maintains his innocence, said a third election campaign would be the ultimate referendum on his credibility.
"It is for the citizens of Santa Ana to decide," he said.
The city's charter states that council members can serve a total of "two full terms." But if Moreno resigns before the end of his second term, he would appear to be eligible to run a third time.
City officials on Wednesday could not recall any officeholder who resigned in order to run for reelection since the law passed in 1986.
City Atty. Joseph W. Fletcher said he would render a legal opinion to the city clerk if and when Moreno officially resigns and files for this year's elections.
But others were critical of Moreno's action, saying it defied the spirit of the law.
"I don't know what he's trying to do other than get around the intent of what term limits is all about," said Councilman Thomas E. Lutz, who is serving his second and last four-year term. "It is what the citizens voted for when they approved the charter 15 years ago."
In 1998, a federal grand jury indicted Moreno and four other political figures on charges that they conspired to extort campaign contributions in the 1996 city elections.
Moreno, who lost a bid for the mayor's office shortly after the indictments, said he has been quietly raising funds for his council race. He declined to detail the amount. He said he will officially announce his resignation sometime before Aug. 11, the deadline for council candidates to file their papers.