Crime & Justice

Commerce councilman to be arraigned for conspiracy, witness tampering

A Commerce councilman, his wife and sister-in-law are set to be arraigned in Los Angeles federal court this morning in an alleged scheme to hide illegally reimbursed campaign contributions from a grand jury probing corruption in the city.

Robert Fierro, 39, was arrested Thursday after a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles returned a four-count indictment charging him with conspiracy and witness tampering, according to Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The indictment also charges the councilman's wife, Linda Fierro, 36, and the councilman's sister-in-law, Ana Perez, 45, with conspiracy and witness tampering, Mrozek said.

Perez, who was the treasurer of Fierro's 2005 campaign, was additionally charged with two counts of making false declarations before the grand jury.

The indictment alleges that Perez, other family members and friends of the then-City Council candidate wrote two $500 checks apiece to Fierro's campaign in January 2005, when he was first running for the office.

Subsequently, Fierro reimbursed those contributions by paying the check-writers $1,000 in cash, according to the indictment, which alleges that the reimbursements were designed to conceal both the true source of the campaign funds and the potential influences upon his actions as an elected official.

In early 2006, the FBI opened an investigation into allegations of illegal campaign contributions during the city council campaign.

The indictment alleges that Fierro contacted a friend to be interviewed by the FBI and urged the friend not to say that he had been reimbursed for his campaign contribution.

In subsequent statements to the FBI, the friend falsely denied that he received reimbursement for his contributions from Fierro, the indictment alleges.

All three defendants are accused of meeting with potential grand jury witnesses, such as the friend who received the $1,000 cash reimbursement, to discuss questions to be posed by the grand jury and how to explain $1,000 cash deposits made to their bank accounts.

In addition to the conspiracy and witness tampering counts, Perez is charged with two counts of making false declarations before the grand jury for allegedly lying to the panel about being reimbursed and about coordinating her story with Fierro.

If convicted, all three defendants would face maximum statutory sentences of five years in prison for the conspiracy count and 10 years for the witness tampering count, Mrozek said.

If convicted of making false declarations before the grand jury, Perez would face a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison for each count, according to Mrozek.

Robert Fierro and Linda Fierro and Perez are Los Angeles Unified School District employees. Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines directed administrators to immediately suspend all three pending the outcome of the federal charges.

Robert Fierro is a teacher at Bridge Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights. Linda Fierro is a teacher at Brooklyn Elementary School in East Los Angeles, and Perez is principal of Hamasaki Elementary School in East Los Angeles.