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Richard Alarcon gets his day in court for perjury, voter fraud charges (updated)

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Two years ago, Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon pleaded not guilty to accusations that he lived outside the district he represents. Today his preliminary hearing finally got underway with testimony from an investigator who kept surveillance on the Alarcon residence for two years.

The councilman is charged with 18 counts of perjury, voter fraud and falsifying a declaration of candidacy. His wife, Flora Alarcon, is also charged with perjury and voter fraud. Prosecutors believe Alarcon was living in a Sun Valley house that is in his wife's name, even though he claimed a Panorama City address as his residence. The Sun Valley house is outside of his district.

Acting on a tip to its Public Integrity department as well as an LA Weekly article, the D.A.'s office hired an investigator who watched the Panorama City house from April 2009 until April 2011. He was the prosecution’s first witness. David Babcock described visiting the home at different times of day to determine whether anyone lived there. The landscaping was overgrown, newspapers accumulated on the lawn, and the house “didn’t appear lived in,” he testified.

All of that was in contrast to what Babcock observed at the Sun Valley home, which he started watching in August of 2009. He testified that he frequently saw the Alarcons there with their young daughter. Both Alarcon’s city vehicle and cars registered to Flora Alarcon were frequently seen at the house.

The Panorama City house rarely had any cars in the driveway, Babcock said. That changed one day in October of 2009, when Babcock observed an LAPD squad car, an unmarked police car, the councilman’s city vehicle and a pick-up truck at the house. The councilman has said a squatter broke into the home at that time and that’s what prompted him to stay at his wife’s house.

During a cross examination, Richard Alarcon’s attorney questioned Babcock’s testimony that he visited the Panorama City home on Oct. 26, 27 and 28 of 2009. On Oct. 28, 2009, the squatter was discovered in the home, yet Babcock was unaware that anyone had been in the house on those days.

An attorney for Flora Alarcon also accused the investigator of ignoring evidence that showed the Alarcons did consider the Panorama City house their home. The address was listed as an emergency contact for the Alarcons’ school-aged daughter. Two witnesses, including Alarcon’s now-chief of staff, also testified that the councilman lived in the house on Nordhoff Street.

A search warrant was delivered to Alarcon in January of 2010. It was after that that new landscaping and cosmetic changes were put into the Panorama City house, according to Babcock.

The trial is being overseen by Judge M. L. Villar de Longoria, who is the sister of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The prosecutor on the case, Jennifer Lentz Snyder, told reporters the D.A.'s office does not see that as a conflict of interest.  

The preliminary hearing will continue on Wednesday at 9 a.m. It is expected to take eight days to complete. 

This post has been updated.

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