RIVERSIDE – Indio police today 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
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.