District attorney's investigators served search warrants and closed offices at Huntington Park City Hall on Thursday as part of a corruption probe of a council member suspected of not living in the city.
The raid marks the launch of the latest investigation into southeast Los Angeles County cities and came as several Cudahy City Council members and officials were ordered to testify before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury.
The Huntington Park raid by about 10 investigators focused on the city offices and the business of Councilwoman Linda Luz Guevara, according to city officials.
Investigators also executed a search warrant at a home in Downey alleged to be Guevara's true address.
Rumors about Guevara's residency have swirled for years. Earlier this year, residents launched a recall effort against her because they believe the house she lists as her residence in Huntington Park is actually her mother's address.
Guevara's critics claim she actually lives in Downey with her husband and son. Sources said investigators found her Thursday morning at the Downey house. Authorities also executed warrants at her son's school in search of documents containing residency information.
Guevara, a paralegal who was elected to the council in 1997, was not available for comment. Mayor Ric Loya said Guevara should step down if the allegations are true and "thus bring an end to the turmoil that the city is now in the midst of."
The Huntington Park investigation exemplifies Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's increasingly aggressive stance against allegations of public corruption. The newly formed public integrity unit has launched several probes in recent months, mainly against city officials in Southeast L.A. County.
Earlier this year, a South Gate City Council candidate was charged with election fraud stemming from allegations that he does not live in the city. His case is pending.
The most wide-ranging investigation involves alleged conflict-of-interest violations by the city managers in Bell Gardens and Cudahy. Both managers--Maria Chacon in Bell Gardens, George Perez in Cudahy--are former council members who voted for ordinances that cleared the way for their appointments.
Chacon and Perez--neither of whom have college degrees--each makes more than $80,000 per year running their cities.
The Cudahy probe reached a crucial stage this week as several council members and city officials testified before the L.A. County Grand Jury. After the two-day hearing, some officials emerged badly shaken.
Though they could not comment on the secret proceedings, one called the prosecution's investigation a "witch hunt."
"We walk in as witnesses, we come out as targets," complained one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Chacon has launched a legal battle to resume her salary after prosecutors advised city officials that it was unlawful to pay an official who is in violation of conflict-of-interest rules.
Chacon, who has not been paid since late April, claims she is entitled to her salary because she has not been charged with any crime. According to court documents, Chacon states that she may have to step down if the city does not resume paying her.
Though some officials in the blue-collar cities targeted in the investigations criticize prosecutors' tactics as heavy-handed, others applaud their efforts as long overdue.
"It was about time that they put a stop to this woman," Rosa Mesa, a resident involved in the recall attempt, said of Guevara. "When someone lives in Huntington Park, you see each other. We never saw her anywhere."
Huntington Park Councilman Ed Escareno added: "We don't have anything to hide. We welcome any investigations. I see it as an opportunity to prove that [residents'] faith in voting for us is justified."