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Board chairman: D.A's actions not 'appropriate'

Friday, April 25th, 2014
Issue 17, Volume 18.
Paul Young
Special to the Valley News

RIVERSIDE - Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach's decision to spend part of a workday planting campaign signs and taking down his opponent's was a breach of duty over which the law will have the final word, two members of the Board of Supervisors said today.

"It is never appropriate or legal to use public resources for personal or political purposes," board Chairman Jeff Stone told City News Service. "The district attorney in his comments mentioned his 'lapse of judgment' ... I have not spoken with the D.A. yet about his version of events and will wait to learn what the Indio Police Department concludes in this matter."

Both Stone and Supervisor Kevin Jeffries have endorsed Zellerbach in the June 3 primary election pitting the incumbent against veteran homicide prosecutor Mike Hestrin.

Jeffries split his endorsement between the two men, telling City News Service earlier this week that he felt both were qualified for the job.

"I'm re-evaluating my position as we speak," Jeffries said today. "I'm waiting for all the facts. Candidates have done stupid things and stupid acts with their opponent's campaign signs going back forever. It's frustrating when a candidate's signs disappear. It's even worse when it's at the hands of your opponent, as in this case."

Jeffries said he had "concerns across the board" regarding Zellerbach's behavior.

"I'm not going to push anybody over a cliff," the supervisor said. "But this is a problem. My top concern is the use of a county vehicle for campaign purposes."

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Van Wagenen confirmed today that Zellerbach was driving a Ford Escape SUV that's among 225 vehicles in the agency's fleet.

"It's one of our travel cars," Van Wagenen said. "We assign it to folks who need to travel for training, go to a trial; for meeting or picking up victims."

Zellerbach today cut a personal check in the amount of $203.28 to reimburse the county for his use of the SUV on Wednesday, when he was allegedly witnessed knocking down a Hestrin sign and putting up one of his own at an Indio intersection.

He admitted removing three other Hestrin signs outside a convenience store not far away and placing his own at the same spot.

Van Wagenen said Advertisement
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D.A.'s office accountants arrived at $203 by calculating the number of miles Zellerbach traveled that day -- 363 -- and multiplying that figure by the Internal Revenue Service mileage reimbursement rate for business, which is 56 cents per mile.

"The D.A. said he wanted to repay the office for use of the county car," Van Wagenen said.

Zellerbach was in the Coachella Valley on Wednesday to attend several official functions.

Shortly before 10 a.m., a law enforcement officer -- whom Zellerbach later identified as D.A.'s office Investigator Javier Garcia -- claims he witnessed the county's top prosecutor kick down a large Hestrin sign posted at Jefferson Street and Indio Boulevard, where the D.A. also planted one of his signs.

According to Riverside Sheriffs' Association President Robert Masson, who spoke on behalf of Garcia, Zellerbach was accompanied by D.A.'s office tribal liaison Ricardo Rubio.

"The officer confronted Mr. Zellerbach and his companion, telling them that he saw what they had done," Masson said.

According to the RSA president, Zellerbach immediately retreated to the county-owned Ford Escape, "leaving Mr. Rubio to pick up the Hestrin sign and try to put it back."

The tail-end of the encounter was captured on Garcia's camera phone. Zellerbach has stated publicly that the affair was taken out of context and that the sign had fallen down in the wind.

Apparently only minutes before that incident, Zellerbach uprooted three Hestrin signs outside an am/pm convenience store on Jefferson, just off Interstate 10, and put up one of his own, all of which was caught on the store's security camera.

According to the Zellerbach camp, the D.A. obtained permission from the store owner to place his signs -- and remove Hestrin's. Indio police are investigating both incidents to ascertain whether acts of misdemeanor vandalism or theft occurred, said police department spokesman Ben Guitron.

"More doors have opened," he told City News Service. "People are calling us, bringing up bits of information that we have to look into. Things keep popping up. We can't dismiss anything."

According to Guitron, if the police department decides to submit the case for criminal charges, the California Attorney General's Office would more than likely be the go-to agency.

"That's a strong point we're heading towards," he said.



Comment Profile ImageAmused
Comment #1 | Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 5:39 pm
Weird, because when a public defender was accused of using a county vehicle for personal use years ago, the county fired her. Safe to say she never got the chance to "cut a check" for the use.
Comment Profile ImagePenal Code 484
Comment #2 | Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 8:23 pm
Zellerbach was caught red-handed on the am/pm video taking down Hestrin's signs/property, placing them in the county-owned SUV (that he was using for personal political purposes), driving off with them without the permission of their owner, Hestrin, and never returning that property to its rightful owner, Hestrin. (Zellerbach has yet to explain what he did with Hestrin's property. One thing is for sure, he didn't return them to Hestrin or to anyone associated with Hestrin's campaign. For all we know, he illegally dumped them along the road during his 363 miles of travel in the county-owned SUV.)

Zellerbach's conduct is defined as theft under section 484 of the Penal Code, plain and simple.

If Zellerbach had simply uprooted Hestrin's signs and either left them on the ground or gave them to a clerk at the am/pm so that they could be returned to Hestrin, he would not have been guilty of theft because that crime requires the "carrying away" of the property of another with the intent to "permanently" deprive the owner of possession of his property.

Unless he is made of more Teflon than Slick Willy, Zellerbach's political career is over. As well it should be.
Comment Continued : The comment above was written from the same location.
Post Continued
Comment Profile ImageCome On Jeffries!
Comment #3 | Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 9:19 pm
Like Hestrin, Jeffries was himself the victim of campaign sign theft when he ran against Bob Buster. However, unlike victim Hestrin, the person or persons who victimized Jeffries were never identified.

Thanks to a video at an am/pm store that is not associated with either the Hestrin or Zellerbach campaigns, the person who victimized Hestrin was clearly identified. And, that person is no other than the Chief Law Enforcement Official in Riverside County, Paul Zellerbach.

Any public official who drags their feet in withdrawing their support for Zellerbach -- support that was previously given in good faith before Zellerbach engaged in wrongdoing -- should hold his/her head in shame, and should him/herself be taken to task by the voters in their next election.

Step up to the plate. Do the right thing. And immediately issue a press release stating that, in light of the recent conduct by the DA, including that captured on video tape, you are compelled to withdraw any endorsement of his re-election that you previously made.
Comment Profile ImageConcerned Citizen
Comment #4 | Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 at 8:20 am
Zellerbach may have cut a check for the misuse of a county vehicle for one day, but that was not the first time he used a county vehicle for political purposes. On April 16 and 17 Zellerbach was in Blythe, CA for the Community Outreach Conference when he took the opportunity to campaign around town and he and Judith Fouladi, Deputy District Attorney, were interviewed on the KJMB radio station. Zellerbach did, indeed, campaign during that interview.

On April 23 --the day he was caught removing Hestrin campaign signs-- Zellerbach again drove a county vehicle to Blythe where he attended a political Meet and Greet at REMAX Realty hosted by David Kehl and Judith Fouladi. Zellerbach was accompanied by Ricardo Rubio, Tribal Liaison.

But Zellerbach is not the only one to misuse a county vehicle. At the end of March David Greenberg, Chief Deputy District Attoryny, was in Blythe when he was observed removing Zellerbach campaign signs from the back of a county vehicle and placing them in Judith Fouladi's personally owned vehicle.

Zellerbach has a reputation for engaging in questionable activities and being heavy handed with anyone who disagrees with him or attempts to expose his activities. It's bad enough he misused a county vehicle and illegally removed an opponents campaign signs, but he then lied about it. This from the countys top prosecutor. Having stooped to this level recently, one has to ask if this type of behavior is business as usual for Zellerbach and his staff.

Zellerbach should do the honorable thing and resign immediately.

Article Comments are contributed by our readers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Valley News staff. The name listed as the author for comments cannot be verified; Comment authors are not guaranteed to be who they claim they are.


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