More charges for former trustee - Morgan Hill Times: Crime Fire Courts

More charges for former trustee

DA: GUSD school board member used campaign funds for concessions at Dodger Stadium and for bagels

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Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 3:38 pm | Updated: 12:45 pm, Mon May 13, 2013.

The former Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education trustee who is already facing charges for swindling $52,000 from a leading South County nonprofit organization, as well as billing an engineering firm for meetings that supposedly never occurred is now being accused of misusing thousands of dollars from his 2010 campaign donations.

Francisco Dominguez, 51 of Gilroy, was charged Tuesday by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office with one count of grand theft and three counts of perjury based on Dominguez' use of campaign contributions during his successful School Board race three years ago.

“A comparison of his campaign's Bank of America account and Fair Political Practices Commission statements revealed more than $1,100 was for personal use, an additional $1,710 was transferred to Dominguez' other bank accounts, and $300 was removed from ATMs,” court records read.

“I'm sure the people who contributed to Mr. Dominguez' last school board campaign never expected their money would be used on such things as a car smog inspection or concessions at Dodger Stadium,” said Deputy DA John Chase. “He treated campaign donations as his personal funds and then lied about it under penalty of perjury on the state forms.”

About half of the $6,000 Dominguez raised went to non-political purposes, Chase said.

According to Dominguez' bank statements from his campaign account, most of the illegal personal expenses were small charges at restaurants, bagel shops and cafes in Southern California.

For example, on Aug. 19, 2010, Dominguez deposited a $250 check from one of his local supporters, Shapell Homes in Milpitas. Later that day, he spent $25 at a mini-mart in Gonzales, $4 at a bagel shop in Port Huenene, $61 at an Oxnard gas station and $10 at a Chinese restaurant in Oxnard. The next day, Dominguez transferred $50 to his personal account before spending $21 in concessions at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

“When you're at the concession stand at a Dodger's game, and you're looking in your wallet and you see the debit card that goes to your campaign account, it should give you a pause. But I guess for him, it didn't. He pulled it out anyway,” Chase said.

On another day in October 2010, Dominguez spent $57 on fast food including stops at Togo's Sandwiches, Round Table Pizza, KFC and McDonald's. On the same day, he transferred $500 to his personal account. None of these expenditures were listed on his Form 460, the form in which a candidate for public office is legally obligated to disclose all his contributions and expenses.

The next day, Dominguez charged his account with meals at the Longhouse Restaurant and Taco Bell before enjoying a movie at the Platinum Theaters in Gilroy. None of these expenses were disclosed.

“The 460 should line up with his bank statements, and clearly they don't,” Chase said.

Dominguez, the sole proprietor of his own company DZ Consulting, resigned from the GUSD Board of Education Nov. 9, 2011 after allegations that he embezzled from a local nonprofit came to light.

Coupled with the four fresh accusations of grand theft and perjury, the other charges Dominguez is already facing could land him in jail for up to eight years, although Chase doubts the embattled former School Board trustee will actually be given that much time.

During his campaign, Dominguez garnered endorsements and donations from a gamut of local residents and businesses. Dominguez’s 460 form lists 14 donors for his 2010 school board campaign including Garlic moguls Don and Karen Christopher of Christopher Ranch, former Gilroy High School Principal James Maxwell, current GUSD board member Jaime Rosso and the large Gilroy planning company Rugerri-Jensen-Azar & Associates, who designed the downtown Gilroy streetscape and three Gilroy parks, among others.

As a past donor, Karen Christopher lamented Dominguez' latest charges.

“It's always better from someone like this to get caught. You shouldn't get away with it. But it always makes me feel sad when people you trust to represent you give in to the temptation of greed, or whatever is the motivation. I don't know,” Christopher said.

Don and Karen Christopher donated $300 – $100 from Karen and $200 from Don – to Dominguez' School Board campaign because Dominguez and Christopher belonged to the Rotary Club together.

“We didn't know him very well, but it's still a sad thing,” Karen said.

Rosso, who took Dominguez’ spot on the school board, had donated $100 to Dominguez’ campaign in 2010. He declined to comment when contacted Wednesday.

The Dispatch was also unable to reach Dominguez. The phone number on file is no longer current and his number is not publicly listed.

The DA’s office first launched an investigation in early June 2011 following reports by the Gilroy Dispatch, which in May 2011 reported that Dominguez had come under fire for “systematic” embezzlement from the South County Collaborative, a leading social services agency. The Dispatch also broke the news that Dominguez allegedly defrauded an engineering firm by billing them for meetings he supposedly never had regarding the California High Speed Rail project.

John Blaettler, South County Collaborative’s volunteer accountant at the time who first suspected that Dominguez was swindling from the nonprofit, said he was not surprised by the new charges.

“So many small charges, it’s not like he was entertaining campaign supporters with it. It had to be personal. I just hope justice is served in some reasonable time,” Blaettler said.

Bank statements dating back to July 2010 reveal a long list of Dominguez’ illegal personal expenses that include daily stops at fast food restaurants. Charges abound from Starbucks, several different bagel shops, In-N-Out Burger, Carl's Jr., Auntie Anne's Pretzels and more, as well as $140 in undisclosed overdraft fees in November 2010.

“At first, it wasn't the subject of our investigation so we didn't focus on it, but at some point we looked at them and noticed there were all these little charges that would appear on a personal account. We thought that was kind of odd, so we checked his 460s and they were quite different,” Chase said.

Chase would not speculate on whether he thinks Dominguez will be dealt a plea bargain.

“We don't file (charges) unless we're prepared to eventually go to trial. But I shouldn't predict whether or not this will settle before that,” he said.

Chase said the DA's office plans to merge all six charges together for future criminal proceedings, making a strong case for his prosecution.

Still, Chase underscored how serious the recent charges are on their own, even when isolated from Dominguez’ other charges.

“There's no question this is a big deal. People make political donations for a purpose, and when they are not used for the purpose people expect them to be used for, they are being defrauded,” he said. “We got to keep politics clean.”

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