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Attorney General's Office Reviewing Criminal Case Against Riverside County DA

According to Indio police, its investigators are seeking felony charges of misuse of public funds and embezzlement by a public official, as well as misdemeanor charges of petty theft, vandalism and trespassing to place unauthorized signs.

A sign for Mike Hestrin (not this one) was allegedly torn down by Riverside County DA Paul Zellerbach.
A sign for Mike Hestrin (not this one) was allegedly torn down by Riverside County DA Paul Zellerbach.

By PAUL J. YOUNG, City News Service:

Indio police Tuesday submitted a request that criminal charges be filed against Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach for allegedly tearing down signs belonging to his opponent in the DA's race while on official business and using a county-owned vehicle.

"I can confirm that we have received information from the Indio Police Department, and we are in the process of reviewing it," California Attorney General's Office spokesman Nick Pacilio told City News Service.

Around mid-morning, several investigators from the Indio Police Department met with prosecutors at the Attorney General's Los Angeles field office and turned over their findings from a nearly monthlong investigation into Zellerbach's actions.

According to an Indio Police Department statement, its investigators are seeking felony charges of misuse of public funds and embezzlement by a public official, as well as misdemeanor charges of petty theft, vandalism and trespassing to place unauthorized signs.

Calls to Zellerbach at the DA's office in downtown Riverside were not immediately returned, nor did his campaign respond to requests for comment.

On the morning of April 23, a law enforcement officer in an unmarked car said he witnessed Zellerbach  knocking down a large Mike Hestrin campaign sign at the intersection of Indio Boulevard and Jefferson Street. Security cameras mounted outside an am/pm store at 42-334 Jefferson, just off Interstate 10, also caught Zellerbach uprooting three smaller Hestrin signs that same morning.

Zellerbach called the first incident an "accident" in which he bumped into the Hestrin sign while erecting one of his, and later suggested the witness was a disgruntled investigator from the D.A.'s Indio office trying to smear him.

The county's top prosecutor said that, in the second instance, he received permission from the store owner to pull down the Hestrin signs and put up one of his own.

CNS reached the property owner, Nachhattar Chandi, who would not confirm Zellerbach's account or address any part of the controversy swirling around the county's top prosecutor.

"I have spoken with Indio police," Chandi said.

He referred to both Zellerbach and Hestrin as "very reputable people."

On April 25, Zellerbach wrote a $203 personal check to the county as reimbursement for using a county-owned Ford Escape SUV to conduct political activity on county time. Assistant District Attorney Jeff Van Wagenen confirmed that the D.A. took the vehicle to drive to several functions in the Coachella Valley on the day the signs went down. The trip totaled 363 miles, according to Van Wagenen.

Ricardo Rubio, whose official title is tribal liaison for the District Attorney's Office, was with Zellerbach and was allegedly recorded on the law enforcement witness's camera phone apparently attempting to re-anchor the large Hestrin sign at Indio and Jefferson. It has not been confirmed whether Rubio was traveling with Zellerbach for the express purpose of campaigning.

Several law enforcement organizations supporting Hestrin called last month for Zellerbach to step down.

"This is not what you expect from a leader," Riverside Sheriffs' Association President Robert Masson told CNS. "Mr. Zellerbach has tarnished the office badly. You can't go around doing things like this and have the confidence of the public."

CNS attempted to reach several Riverside County supervisors who have endorsed Zellerbach for reaction to the Indio Police Department announcement, but none replied to messages.



Friendly Fred May 22, 2014 at 05:10 AM
Does Zellerbach's contract provide a county car period, or restrict it to only when on county business.
Friendly Fred May 22, 2014 at 05:13 AM
I wonder how many of the Hestrin signs are being put up by police in civilian clothes, during work hours. Of course they have a right to put them up where legal to do so on their own time.
Friendly Fred May 22, 2014 at 05:18 AM
There are persons living in Murrieta working for police or fire departments in cities from Hemet to Escondido that are driving city or county owned vehicles to and from home. In some or all cases they are authorized to do so where they may have to respond to emergency call while they re off duty at home. This is OK with me, I am just commenting.
Friendly Fred May 22, 2014 at 05:28 AM
There was considerable discussion in Murrieta a few years back about the extent to which the political signs should be allowed on public land alongside streets and roads. And a revised ordnance was passed. Maybe I will comment more later, past my bed time now. There is a free speech involvement with this issue and often courts have struck down restrictions. HOWEVER there is a right to take the ones displayed on public property down and impound them by the city a short time after the election, and maybe impose charges or fines for not taking them down. But this can be unreasonable because anyone is likely to be able to cause harm to a politician they do not like by getting his/her signs and sticking them up after the election.
Steve Mehlman May 22, 2014 at 02:03 PM
Police and firefighters are heroes when they risk their lives to protect you. But when they fight for their rights, they are just "union thugs" to you. That police officers and firefighters support Mr. Hestrin is a plus for him, not a negative.

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