San Bernardino City Council member Chas Kelley, far right, at a meeting… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)
Prosecutors announced Thursday that two San Bernardino city councilmen have been charged in separate criminal cases, with one of them admitting his guilt, resigning his post and ending his bid for mayor weeks before election day.
Chas Kelley pleaded guilty to a perjury charge for lying on campaign finance documents, forcing him to resign the seat he had held since 2003. Robert Jenkins faces 18 felony and 12 misdemeanor counts related to identity theft and stalking. Prosecutors allege that he targeted a former partner.
"Some elected officials would choose to fight such matters in court to the bitter end," Kelley said in a statement, "but I believe our city and our county have suffered enough from political controversy and that the proper course of action is resignation."
As part of a plea agreement, Kelley, 44, will be sentenced to 90 days in county jail and five years of probation, according to a statement from the San Bernardino County district attorney's office. Kelley will also be banned from election or appointment to public office.
Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos said Kelley's actions were a disappointment to the voters who elect officials they hope will serve in the public's best interests. "Let this be yet another warning that public corruption will not be tolerated in the county of San Bernardino," Ramos said in a statement.
In the other case, Riverside County prosecutors said that Jenkins — a special education teacher elected to the council in 2011 — posted advertisements on Craigslist seeking sex partners and directing those who replied to two men whose names, photographs and addresses he would give out.
One of the men was described by his attorney as a former romantic partner and the other had a relationship with the former partner. Both men live in Riverside County.
Jenkins' lawyer, Virginia Blumenthal, said the allegations were unfounded and that the councilman — who is campaigning to keep his seat in the Nov. 5 election — would be exonerated.
"He is very saddened any sort of personal dispute has led to these false allegations," she said.
Jenkins, 33, is scheduled to be arraigned in December.
Prosecutors said they began investigating Kelley after a 2011 complaint and found that he had failed to disclose more than $74,000 on documents related to his Friends of Chas Kelley campaign account. In a statement admitting his guilt, Kelley said he falsely reported money in the account to "hide the fact that I was using the money improperly for non-campaign-related purposes."
"My failure to properly report campaign expenses and contributions is a criminal violation that I am deeply embarrassed about," Kelley added in his resignation announcement. "Although I have already taken action to correct my campaign reporting errors, I nevertheless am taking full responsibility for my mistakes and accepting the legal consequences."
Kelley opted to take the deal offered by prosecutors because he could have faced as many as 18 counts rather than one, and he wanted to spare his family from a lengthy incarceration if he were found guilty, said his attorney, Greg Kassel.
Kassel argued that, despite the charges, Kelley had otherwise been a dedicated public servant, and stepping away from politics would be difficult for him.
"This doesn't circumvent the fact he's served for all these years for San Bernardino," he said.
Kelley had been targeted during a recent recall effort that was successful in forcing a vote for two city council members — Wendy McCammack and John Valdivia — as well as City Atty. James Penman. The effort failed to collect enough signatures for Kelley to face a recall vote.
Kelley had been one of about a dozen candidates running for mayor, campaigning on a message of setting the city on a better path for his four children.
"San Bernardino is a city that needs a new generation of leadership," Kelley said in an interview with The Times last month, before the allegations surfaced. "Frankly, the old guard has failed San Bernardino and failed us with a capital F.... You're talking to a new-generation leader, delivering results over rhetoric."