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Former candidate indicted

Tan Nguyen is accused of misleading investigators on a letter warning about illegal voting.

October 02, 2008|My-Thuan Tran | Times Staff Writer

A former Orange County congressional candidate whose campaign mailed letters warning immigrants against voting was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on obstruction of justice charges.

Tan Nguyen, whose staff sent letters to 14,000 voters in central Orange County with Spanish surnames in October 2006, allegedly misled investigators who were looking into whether the letter violated federal election laws, federal officials said.

Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant, was running to unseat Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) in the November 2006 election. Three weeks before the election, his campaign sent a letter in Spanish that said, "You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or if you are an immigrant, a vote in a federal election is a crime that can result in jail imprisonment or you will be deported for voting without the right to do so."

The letter also falsely said that the state had developed a tracking system that would allow new Latino voters' names to be handed over to anti-immigrant groups.

Nguyen's attorney, James Riddet, said Wednesday that Nguyen will plead not guilty.

"I expect him to be fully exonerated," Riddet said. "He is not guilty of these charges." Riddet would not elaborate.

Nguyen said he will hold a news conference today in Santa Ana to discuss the indictment.

"I believe that people will be interested in knowing what is going on," he said. "It's better for me to say it how I want."

Last year, the state attorney general's office said it would not file charges against Nguyen after a seven-month investigation found there was no criminal intent to intimidate voters in the letters.

Nguyen and his lawyers previously said the letter was a misunderstanding over the Spanish translation of "emigrado." The state investigation found that the original letter had been drafted in English by a member of Nguyen's campaign, correctly using the term "green-card holder" to identify those not allowed to vote. The letter was translated into Spanish by another person who changed the word to "emigrado," which translates as "immigrant."

Nguyen was a little-known Republican candidate for the 47th District when he sent the letter, which brought national condemnation from both political parties. Local Democrats and some Republicans decried the letter, saying it was an example of racially tainted voter intimidation.

Nguyen lost the 2006 election in a lopsided vote and has not run for public office again.

If convicted, Nguyen could face up to 10 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on Oct. 14.

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my-thuan.tran@latimes.com

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