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June 14, 2021

DA again cancels grand jury

The dizzying election scandal took several more spins Monday as
District Attorney John Sarsfield again canceled a criminal grand
jury to consider felony indictments against Jaime De La Cruz, and
the prosecutor warned of a possible civil lawsuit against the
supervisor-elect’s camp.
The dizzying election scandal took several more spins Monday as District Attorney John Sarsfield again canceled a criminal grand jury to consider felony indictments against Jaime De La Cruz, and the prosecutor warned of a possible civil lawsuit against the supervisor-elect’s camp.

The announcement came the same day De La Cruz’s campaign adviser Ignacio Velazquez filed a motion to disqualify Sarsfield, claiming the prosecutor had conflicts of interest in the case that included an inner-office affair and a desire to please the Board of Supervisors.

Now, an investigative report alleging felony Elections Code violations against De La Cruz and Velazquez will be forwarded to the state Attorney General’s Office, according to court documents. It will be up to the state agency to consider whether to pursue felony charges recommended in the report.

“What the heck is going on?” De La Cruz said when told about the most recent grand jury cancellation, though he declined to comment further. He and Velazquez are represented by lawyer Mike Pekin.

In exchange for canceling the grand jury a second time, Velazquez agreed to drop the motion and permanently seal the court file containing the embarrassing information. Sarsfield initially agreed to call it off Thursday as long as Velazquez withheld the recusal motion containing the affair claim.

Sarsfield declined to comment Monday besides saying, “Oh yeah,” he’s considering a lawsuit against Pekin and his clients.

“I’m not going to talk to you guys about this,” Sarsfield said. “I’m not going to help you with this anymore.”

The district attorney Monday also agreed to divulge who in the Attorney General’s Office will handle the probe, according to Pekin. He plans to send materials in defense of his clients to the state office, too, Pekin said.

County lawyer Nancy Miller, acting as a liaison between Sarsfield and Pekin, said the grand jury was canceled again because the recusal motion filed Monday made Sarsfield a player in the matter. Sarsfield had planned to oversee the grand jury proceedings June 1-3.

The alleged affair, however, was not the motive for canceling the grand jury, Miller said. In the motion to recuse Sarsfield, Velazquez alleged the district attorney has an ongoing affair with his office manager Nancy Leon. She is the niece of Mickie Luna, a leader of LULAC, the organization De La Cruz’s camp says spurred the fraud allegations.

“By the rules of professional conduct, you cannot maintain an action against them while they have an action against you,” Miller said.

Before Monday, however, the fate of the grand jury probe took several 180-degree turns.

Sarsfield initially planned the proceedings after receiving the investigative report three weeks ago. After Thursday’s cancellation, his office phoned witnesses Friday to inform them it was off.

Friday evening, Sarsfield again reversed course and dismissed the notion that he could have a personal vendetta against the De La Cruz and Velazquez while vowing to “uphold the law.”

Sarsfield said he had consulted with the Attorney General’s Office about a possible conflict of interest and made the decision to continue on. He claimed he was extorted by Pekin and said he referred the matter to the FBI.

An Attorney General’s Office spokesman, Nathan Barankin, said he “can’t confirm or deny” whether someone from the office advised Sarsfield on the matter.

“I’ve ever seen it like this before,” said Peter Frusetta, a 71-year old former state assemblyman who has lived here his whole life. “It’s like a little ‘Peyton Place.'”

In the end, Pekin got the cancellation of the grand jury probe he wanted. He has been badgering county officials since he represented an anonymous group, Los Valientes, who sued Supervisor Richard Scagliotti last year alleging corruption charges.

“I’m sorry for the personal aspect of it,” Pekin said. “But for the professional aspect, my clients are no longer facing a grand jury. That’s just. It’s a just result. It’s a result I’m responsible for.”

Pekin, though, also received a letter Monday saying San Benito County is considering litigation against the attorney and possibly some of his clients, according to the letter obtained by the Free Lance.

Lawyer John Picone’s letter requested preservation of documents relating to both the election investigation and Los Valientes. Picone, who previously has represented both Sarsfield and the county, was not at his Redwood City office Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Pekin called the threat of litigation a “slap suit.”

“It means that it’s a lawsuit brought by officials designed to suppress free speech or exercise of rights,” he said.

The probe into the District 5 supervisor’s race, which De La Cruz won by 10 votes over incumbent Bob Cruz, has taken many peculiar twists and turns. And now it’s where the board wanted it to begin with – an examination by the Attorney General’s Office, according to Miller.

State officials declined to take the probe in March and referred it to local law enforcement, she said. Sarsfield then retained a Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office inspector, whose report released two weeks ago recommended charges against De La Cruz and his adviser.

Those allegations include illegally handling ballots, coercing a voter, De La Cruz signing an election document in place of a campaign worker and electioneering at a polling place.

A civil election contest filed by Cruz’s wife, Marian, includes many of the same allegations. And she is seeking a new race in November.

Bob Cruz did not immediately return a phone call Monday. He previously has declined to comment on the matter.

Supervisor Reb Monaco worries about the scandal’s reflection on the overall local political scene, he said.

“People are just flabbergasted at what’s going on,” he said.

On again, off again grand jury

Week of May 3. The grand jury on: District Attorney John Sarsfield receives an investigative report and calls for a grand jury June 1-3 to consider felony indictments against Jaime De La Cruz and his adviser Ignacio Velazquez

May 20. The grand jury is off: Velazquez and De La Cruz’s lawyer Mike Pekin and Sarsfield strike deal to cancel the grand jury. Pekin agrees not to file court documents alleging that an inner-office affair compromises the DA’s objectivity

May 21. The grand jury is on: Sarsfield reverses the deal and continues plans to hold and oversee grand jury. He claims he was extorted by Pekin and asked the FBI to investigate

May 24. The grand jury is off: Velazquez files motion to disqualify Sarsfield. It includes claims that Sarsfield is having an affair that compromises his objectivity and that the prosecutor is trying to please the Board of Supervisors by pursuing the probe into the De La Cruz election.

Sarsfield cancels the grand jury, refers the investigation to the state and warns of possible litigation against Pekin and his clients.

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