- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The new president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board and a relative were charged Wednesday with felonies and misdemeanors for alleging reimbursing nearly $25,000 to donors he claimed in an election campaign filing form, the district attorney’s office said.

Board of Education President Refugio Rodriguez, 46, and a cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, were each charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit what is called assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

Rodriguez additionally was charged with one felony count each of perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument. A call seeking comment was made to his office.

Both defendants were scheduled for arraignment later Wednesday.

The school district was aware of the charges, general counsel David Holmquist said in a statement.

“These allegations are not connected to any district business. However, we will cooperate, as needed with the district attorney’s office,” he said.

The charges involve his 2014 run for election to the board governing the nation’s second-largest school district. A pro-charter schools majority elevated him to president of the seven-member board earlier this summer.

The investigation began with a March 2015 whistleblower complaint to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission about Rodriguez’s fundraising activities.

Rodriguez announced his run for the school board in November 2014 and he reported raising more than $50,000 during his first campaign reporting that ended the following Dec. 31.

Prosecutors alleged that 25 donors, mostly family and friends, were paid back $24,250. Their names were listed on a campaign finance report allegedly signed by Rodriguez under the penalty of perjury.

The Ethics Commission referred its findings to county prosecutors.

If convicted on the felony counts, Rodriguez could face up to four years and four months in jail. Melendrez could face up to three years in custody.

Rodriguez is a co-founder of a charter public schools group, Partnerships to Uplift Communities, and was appointed to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in 2013.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 640,000 K-12 students, 900 schools and 187 public charter schools in Los Angeles and all or portions of 31 small cities as well as some unincorporated areas.

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