Now that former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon has been convicted of perjury and voter fraud, the longtime San Fernando Valley politician could end his 20-year public career as an inmate in state prison.
Alarcon started out as Mayor Tom Bradley's Valley representative. Beginning in 1993, Alarcon spent two decades representing the Valley on the L.A. City Council and then in the state Senate and Assembly. He was known for supporting labor and going after big banks during the financial crisis, according to Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
"He was much more of a broad thinker than most elected officials," Guerra said.
Alarcon was also a pioneer in representing the Latino residents of the Valley, ultimately paving the way for politicians like Congressman Tony Cardenas, state Senator Alex Padilla and Councilwoman Nury Martinez, Guerra said.
"In that sense, he was a groundbreaking individual in Latino representation in the east Valley," he added.
After he returned to the L.A. City Council in 2007, Alarcon ran into problems. He said he was living in the home he owned in Panorama City, but authorities said he actually lived outside of his district - and that's against the law.
"Richard Alarcon is not a political novice. He has spent a lot of time in different political offices. I think he was well aware of the residency requirements," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
But what makes the case unique is Alarcon spent a lifetime representing the area, according to Guerra.
"Richard Alarcon actually owned a home in the district," Guerra said. "Richard Alarcon had actually represented that district for many years at different levels of government. He had actually represented that very same council district before. Nobody could call him a carpetbagger."
Defense attorneys argued Alarcon was simply renovating his home in the district. But a jury didn't buy it. Alarcon was convicted on four counts of perjury and voter fraud.
The case against Alarcon was a family affair. His wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, was found guilty of three felonies related to voter fraud and perjury.
Up until about two years ago, Alarcon’s adult daughter, Andrea Alarcon, had been considered the obvious choice to carry on his political legacy, thanks in part to her work on the powerful Board of Public Works.
However, Andrea Alarcon resigned from the board in January 2013 following two incidents. One was a drunk driving arrest. The other involved leaving her 11-year-old daughter alone at City Hall at about 10:30 p.m. while she and a friend went out for drinks at a nearby hotel. That prompted an investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services.
Richard Alarcon had hoped “he would get reelected to the Assembly and he would have his daughter, Andrea Alarcon, replace him at the city council; but when this all came up, it really hindered those two aspirations,” Guerra said.
“Not only is the legacy over but the legacy will be tainted because of this,” Guerra said.
Alarcon's conviction could land him in state prison for up to six years. He could also be banned from running for office again. But according to Prof. Levinson, it may be too soon to write Alarcon's political obituary.
"A lot of politicians have a kind of phoenix-rise-from-the-ashes story... so we'll see," Levinson said.
Sentencing in the Alarcon case is scheduled for Sept. 10.