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New allegation surfaces of illegal scheme during Mission mayor’s race

October 10, 2018

MISSION — A new allegation of illegal vote harvesting in this city’s June mayoral runoff has surfaced.

Marco Perez, who worked for Mission city council candidate Julian Gonzalez’s unsuccessful campaign, is denying Esmeralda “Esmer” Lara’s Oct. 2 testimony alleging that Perez promised her $1,500 if Lara, who other witnesses described as a politiquera, worked for Gonzalez and Norbeto “Beto” Salinas. Gonzalez and Beto Salinas ran on the same slate in the May election and June runoff.

These allegations were revealed during a press conference Wednesday at attorney Rick Salinas’ law office in Mission. There, Perez alleged that it was Lara who approached him, displaying a notebook filled with the names and addresses of voters whose ballots she handled and requesting $6,000 in cash.

Lara, a Mission school district janitor, testified she originally volunteered to work for the Armando O’Caña campaign for no pay but was persuaded to help the Beto Salinas campaign during the 35 days between the general election and the runoff after being told that doing so would land her a higher-paying job with the city. However, Perez stated in his affidavit that she was “very clear that she would continue working for Dr. Armando O’Caña during the runoff.”

The new information comes on the heels of a judge voiding Friday the June mayoral runoff election, in which O’Caña was declared the winner and Beto Salinas was unseated after serving as mayor for nearly two decades.

Rick Salinas filed a lawsuit challenging those results on behalf of his father, Beto Salinas, alleging the O’Caña campaign participated in illegal vote harvesting.

In rendering his decision to void the election, Judge J. Bonner Dorsey said he could not ascertain the true outcome of the election after witnesses testified to receiving money in exchange for their votes, or being illegally assisted in casting absentee ballots by mail.

Attorneys for O’Caña filed a notice of appeal on Monday, staying the judge’s order and effectively delaying any plans for a new election until the appeals court makes its ruling.

O’Caña, who remains mayor, has denied participating in illegal vote harvesting.

bereniceg@themonitor.com

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