A Los Angeles County Grand Jury on Thursday unsealed an eight-count felony indictment against state Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), accusing him of filing a false declaration of candidacy, voter fraud and perjury beginning in 2007, when he changed his voter registration to run for the Legislature.
Wright listed as his residence a home in the district he wanted to represent, but county authorities allege that he did not live there. A candidate for state legislative office is required by California law to reside in the district he or she seeks to represent.
The indictment also alleges that Wright fraudulently voted in elections in 2008 and 2009.
If convicted, he faces up to eight years and four months in state prison and would be barred for life from holding elected office.
Wright, 58, was arraigned Thursday morning before Superior Court Judge Patricia M. Schnegg. He pleaded not guilty and was expected to be released after posting $45,000 bail. He is due back in court Oct. 8.
Wright had no immediate comment, but one of his attorneys, Winston Kevin McKesson, predicted that his client would be "fully exonerated." "We we believe he fully complied with the law," McKesson said.
The indictment comes almost a year from the day in 2009 when authorities searched two homes owned by Wright, one in Inglewood, in the 25th Senate District that he was elected to represent in 2008, and the other in Baldwin Hills, in the neighboring 26th District.
In confirming the searches of the two properties last year, David Demerjian, head of the district attorney's public integrity division, said the investigation stemmed from a tip the office received that the legislator had not been living in the district despite listing the Inglewood address as his home when changing his voter registration in March 2007.
Voter registration affidavits and declarations of candidacy are signed under penalty of perjury.
Wright won the Senate seat in November 2008. His district runs from the coastal cities of the Palos Verdes Peninsula through the harbor area and part of Long Beach, as well as through Compton, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood and some portions of Los Angeles city and unincorporated areas.
Even if Wright is convicted of one or more felonies, it is unclear whether he would be forced to give up his seat. With few exceptions, including a recall election, legislators cannot be expelled from office except by a two-thirds vote of their colleagues in the Assembly or Senate.
Neither E. Dotson Wilson, chief clerk of the Assembly, nor Gregory Schmidt, secretary of the Senate, could name an instance in which a member of either house had been removed by colleagues over a matter of residency.
The Wright indictment marks the second time in less than two months that a local elected official has faced criminal charges over possible residency fraud.
On Aug. 4, Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife were indicted on 24 felony counts when a criminal grand jury alleged they had committed perjury and voter fraud when they listed their home as being in Panorama City but actually lived outside Alarcon's 7th Council District.
Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca, both pleaded not guilty.
-- Jean Merl