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Political family faces questions about campaign finances

Hector%20Chacon%20at%20Ramona%20Gardens%2C%20the%20Boyle%20Heights%20housing%20project%20where%20he%20grew%20up.%20In%20the%20bruising%20political%20world%20of%20southeast%20Los%20Angeles%20County%2C%20Chacon%20and%20his%20family%20are%20campaign%20gurus%20and%20political%20gatekeepers%2C%20both%20admired%20and%20feared.%20%28Francine%20Orr%2C%20Los%20Angeles%20Times%29

Over the last two decades, Hector Chacon and his family have emerged as leading political consultants in southeast L.A. County, helping run more than 100 campaigns, including heated races for city councils, water districts and school boards.

But a Times review of documents, as well as interviews, raise questions about how the Chacons spend, raise and report campaign funds.

The Chacons were the subject of a profile in the Feb. 26 Los Angeles Times. Hector Chacon, along with his nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters, have been well-known in political circles in the region since the 1990s. Hector serves on the Montebello school board, brother Art serves on the Central Basin Water District and half-brother Hugo Argumedo served on the Commerce City Council until he was charged with perjury in 2010 and stepped down as part of a plea deal.

The Chacons have regularly paid one another to be consultants on their own campaigns, according to disclosure records.

A review of campaign finance documents by The Times found that the Chacon brothers used funds from their committees to pay siblings or other relatives at least 30 times over the last six years.

In 2010, Art Chacon's campaign committee awarded $5,000 in consulting fees to his brother and sister, even though he was running unopposed for the Central Basin water board. (No election was held: Chacon was proclaimed the winner.) Hector Chacon said the money was for work completed before the family learned that Art had no challenger.

Hector Chacon raised more than $50,000 for his recent reelection bid for the Montebello school board and paid nearly $10,000 in fees to his family or companies they control, records show. He won the seat, a part-time post that pays just $750 a month.

The Times has found evidence that the source of some of their political contributions was misrepresented in campaign disclosure documents.

California Citizens for Good Government, a political action committee Hector Chacon helped manage in 2008 and 2009, raised thousands of dollars from attorneys, trash haulers and construction management firms that relied on contracts from government agencies across Southern California. The money was used to fund some notably heated campaigns, including a City Council election in Bell and a recall in Commerce.

One day in late 2008, Art Chacon visited Gustavo Villa, who ran a small water company in Maywood. He gave him $2,000 in cash and asked him to write a check for the same amount to the political action committee, Villa told The Times. It wasn't clear why Chacon wanted the arrangement; campaign finance rules require that all donors be specifically identified.

Villa said he didn't have a checkbook, so he asked his assistant, Beatriz Ortega, to write the check in exchange for the cash. Ortega confirmed the account.

Enrique Curiel, who hired Art Chacon to help manage his unsuccessful campaign for the Maywood City Council, is also listed as giving the committee $2,500. He told The Times he never made the contribution.

Art Chacon declined to be interviewed. Hector denied that his brother acted inappropriately.

"Unfortunately, in politics there's people who win and people who lose," Hector said. "My critics would be the people who lose."

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-- Hector Becerra and Sam Allen

Photo: Hector Chacon. Credit: L.A. Times.

 
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