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School Board Member Charged With Perjury

West Covina: Elected official allegedly lied about living in the district. He could face up to five years in prison.

January 08, 2002|RICHARD WINTON and STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A West Covina school board member was charged Monday with perjury for allegedly lying that he lived in the district when prosecutors say evidence will show he resides a dozen miles away in Downey.

Peter Sabatino Jr., 48, surrendered to authorities at the downtown Criminal Courts Building, where he made a brief appearance and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge released him on his own recognizance.

The 13-year incumbent was reelected in November despite news reports just days before the election that investigators for the district attorney had searched a home he owns in Downey.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Ceballos said Sabatino has his own room at the Downey address. "When we searched the house, and it was 7 a.m., and we found him there in his towel," Ceballos said. "His clothes were all over the floor."

He added, "Individuals we talked to indicate he is always there, that his car is always there."

Sabatino will be arraigned Jan. 22 on two counts each of felony perjury by declaration and two counts of filing a false declaration of candidacy.

The charges come after a seven-month investigation into the school board member. If convicted, Sabatino faces up to five years in state prison. State election codes require candidates and school board members to reside in the district that they represent.

Warrants were served in October at four locations as part of the investigation into Sabatino, a records manager for the Los Angeles County Office of Education in Downey. As a school board member, Sabatino receives $400 a month in compensation.

Sabatino could not be reached for comment Monday. In an October interview, he denied that he resided at the Downey house he bought in 1996. Sabatino said he lives in a home owned by his mother in an unincorporated area in the West Covina school district. He listed that house as his residence when he ran for the school board in 1997 and again last year.

"I am a longtime resident. I vote there. My bills come there," he told The Times. "I spend time at the Downey house because my 17-year-old son lives there. There isn't a bed there for me. When I stay there, I sleep on the sofa," said Sabatino, who explained he is a single parent and his son lives alone.

Ceballos disputed Sabatino's argument. "He doesn't have a room there," he said, referring to the home of Sabatino's mother. He said investigators searched the mother's house and did not find overnight items such as toiletries and underwear. He said that address is only in his mother's name in county records, while the Downey address is solely in Sabatino's name.

Sabatino told The Times that, during the Oct. 26 raid on the Downey house on Bigby Street, investigators entered with guns drawn. Investigators questioned him and seized bills and statements from that house and his mother's house, searched his truck and took files from the school district offices.

In June 1998, Sabatino refinanced his Downey house using a Federal Housing Authority-backed loan with a provision that he must use the property as his "principal residence," records show.

Sabatino is the third elected official or candidate to be charged with living outside his or her district by the public integrity division formed last year. In November, a South Gate candidate, Richard Mayer, was convicted on seven felony counts. Huntington Park Councilwoman Linda Guevara also has been charged with lying about her residence.

A Democrat, Sabatino has said he is a victim of unfounded accusations by his political enemies who, like Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, are Republicans.

Sabatino was appointed to the school board in 1988 to fill a vacancy after an unsuccessful bid for office a year before. He was reelected in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2001. In November, he garnered 24% of the vote to edge out his nearest challenger by 44 votes.

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