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O.C. candidate has serious image problem

A doctored photo puts Trung Nguyen in a bad spot just before the supervisor election.

January 30, 2007|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

The campaign of an Orange County supervisorial candidate, whose slogan is "Honesty, Integrity and Leadership," has been caught doctoring a photo so that it places the politician close to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The photo into which Trung Nguyen was inserted appeared over the weekend in two Vietnamese-language daily newspapers, Vien Dong and Viet Bao Kinh Te. The papers are heavily circulated in Little Saigon, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside Southeast Asia.

Nguyen's campaign variously blamed the alteration on an advertising company and a volunteer.

Saulo G. Londono, Nguyen's campaign manager, called it "a very stupid mistake made by a third-party vendor. We don't want to go in great detail into what the vendor did, but we definitely made sure it won't happen again."

He said the photos the advertising company used did not come from Nguyen's campaign. Londono said he did not know who provided the company with the altered photo. He would not give the name of the advertising company, which, he said, no longer works for the campaign.

Assemblyman Van Tran (R-Westminster), who is co-chairman of Nguyen's campaign, blamed a volunteer for the fake photo. The volunteer, whom he declined to name, has been reprimanded and removed from working with newspapers and photos, Tran said.

The election Feb. 6 will replace Lou Correa, who resigned after winning a state Senate seat in November. Ten candidates are listed on the ballot. The district includes Westminster, Santa Ana and Garden Grove.

The discovery of the photo was made Saturday by a campaign worker for Garden Grove Councilwoman Janet Nguyen, who is fighting Trung Nguyen for support among Vietnamese American voters. Trung Nguyen is a Garden Grove school board member and attorney. The Nguyens are not related.

The original photo was taken in August, when Schwarzenegger appeared in Little Saigon to sign an executive order that allows the flag of the former South Vietnam to be used at state-sponsored events.

In a video on the governor's website, Trung Nguyen is shown at the ceremony in a blue suit but not standing next to Schwarzenegger.

In the altered photo, Trung Nguyen's face is pasted onto the body of community activist Peter Chau Nguyen, who was wearing a tan suit.

Also, Trung Nguyen's face is in the sun while everyone around him is in the shade. Peter Nguyen is not related to either of the other two Nguyens.

Dave Gilliard, a political consultant for Janet Nguyen, said a campaign worker thought the photo "looked funny" and investigated. "We're pretty shocked," Gilliard said. "He's running on integrity and trust, and I think voters are not going to look too kindly on that. It's over the line ethically."

Schwarzenegger has been protective of his image and use of photos. His staff scrutinizes TV, radio, print and consumer products. If it finds an offending advertisement, Schwarzenegger's attorneys usually send a cease-and-desist letter that may include a monetary settlement proposal. In some cases, Schwarzenegger has asked that settlements be donated to charity.

Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger's press secretary, said the governor did not plan to take any action against Trung Nguyen.

"The governor's office has strict policies when it comes to use of his image," McLear said. "But our understanding is that Mr. Nguyen has taken steps to rectify the situation and is no longer using the unauthorized photo."

The altered picture became the talk of the town among political circles.

"It's just one of those things that you don't do in campaigns. It's quite embarrassing," said George Urch, spokesman for supervisorial candidate Tom Umberg.

"It's very deceptive and amateurish. If he's willing to do that, what else is he willing to do when it comes to duping the voters? This is kind of a silly grade-school trick."

mai.tran@latimes.com

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