Feds: Cudahy officials threw away ballots, manipulated two elections
Cudahy officials at the city's highest levels tampered with and manipulated the results of at least two city elections, according to federal documents released Thursday.
The documents were part of the plea agreements of two Cudahy city officials who agreed to plead guilty Thursday to bribery and extortion.
But the documents also shed light on a culture of corruption within City Hall, with examples of widespread bribery and developer payoffs to voter fraud.
“The very definition of democracy is that all those qualified as voters have the opportunity to cast their votes and to have those votes counted,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Akrotirianakis said.
Details of the election fraud were spelled out by Angel Perales, the city's former interim city manager and code enforcement director. Perales and former mayor David Silva have agreed to plead guilty to bribery and extortion.
The documents show that a city official identified only as G.P. asked Perales and others to make non-residents register to vote in elections. They used an address that belonged to a Cudahy city employee. In exchange, that employee was rewarded with promotions and other favorable treatment, the documents say.
In addition, the city officials tossed out ballots that did not favor incumbents.
Perales said that when absentee ballots were delivered to City Hall, he and G.P. determined through "trial and error" the best way to open the sealed envelopes without defacing them. "Routinely and systematically," they opened the ballots. If they contained votes in favor of incumbents, they were resealed and counted. Ballots for non-incumbents were discarded.
The same process was used during the 2009 election, the documents said.
No one has been arrested in connection to the election fraud, but federal authorities issued a search warrant at City Hall recently, demanding all documents related to the 2007 and 2009 elections.
Those elections have already been under scrutiny. When Luis Garcia and Daniel Cota decided to run for City Council in Cudahy in 2007, bad things started happening. Men followed them around town, they said. Their cars were vandalized with buckets of paint. Rocks and bricks were launched at Garcia's window.
It was the first contested council race in nearly a decade, and they lost by a few dozen votes.
In 2009, Garcia and Cota decided to run again — and things got worse. A man tossed a Molotov cocktail at his home.
Garcia, who also lost in 2009, said the revelations confirmed what he had suspected.
“I’m full of joy today,” Garcia said Thursday. “People come to America for democracy, and we weren’t getting that in Cudahy. Now that the truth comes out, I hope the community can move forward.”
-- Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Community activist Blanca Ramos holds a sign before addressing the City Council as residents rally at City Hall this month. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times