LAUSD President Steps Down From Top Post Amid Criminal Charges, Will Remain On School Board

Refugio Rodriguez, president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board, announced Tuesday that he is stepping down from his post after he was charged Wednesday with campaign finance violations.

As we’d reported last week, Rodriguez was charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury, and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument. Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, a cousin of Rodriguez’s, was accused of aiding him and also faces one felony count of conspiracy.

Rodriguez announced on Twitter that he was stepping away from his role:

While he’s giving up the role of president, Rodriguez will remain on the school board, reports KPCC. It's not immediately clear who will succeed Rodriguez for the seat.

The charges stem from a months-long investigation conducted by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, who had been tipped off by a “whistleblower complaint.” The commission alleged that he’d reimbursed about $24,000 that had been donated to his successful 2015 campaign, which was characterized as "political money laundering." The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office claimed that 25 donors who were listed on a campaign finance report were friends or family of Rodriguez’s, and that they were all paid back.

Rodriguez made his first court appearance last week, but did not enter a plea, reports KPCC. He's expected to be arraigned in October.

Bob Stern, co-author of the California Political Reform Act (which has provisions regulating campaign finance), told the L.A. Times that the allegations marked “one of the most unusual money-laundering cases I’ve ever seen,” adding that there were “no limits on how much [Rodriguez] can contribute of his own money. So why would he do this?”

Sue Burnside, a political consultant, speculated that Rodriguez may have felt pressure in the fundraising race. He was initially trailing his opponents in his first fundraising report—that “would have made him look weak, and not the star candidate everyone was touting him to be,” Burnside told the Times. “His campaign would have never launched the way it did without the $51,000 raised in the first period.”