From legal frying pan into fire for Fragozo

EUSD Trustee Jose Fragozo outsiden Vista superior Court.

May 18 has been set as arraignment day for Escondido Unified School District Trustee Jose Fragozo’s next journey through the legal system.

Fragozo was exonerated last month during a hearing sought by EUSD superintendent Juan Rankins-Ibarra and other administrators to make a temporary restraining order stick permanently. San Diego Superior Court Judge Richard Whitey refused to bar Fragozo from attending school board meetings and visiting district facilities.

This date with the legal system poses even more potentially dire consequences for Fragozo. San Diego County prosecutors accuse Fragozo of 13 felony charges related to allegedly misrepresenting his place of residence to run for school board.

Charges include alleged perjury, false voter registration, filing false election documents and other counts linked to complaints that he doesn’t live in the voting district where he was elected. State law says candidates must live at only one residence the district they seek to represent. Fragozo would face  a maximum sentence of nine years, four months in prison if convicted.

“Mr. Fragozo is very disappointed the public is being made to pay for nothing,” Victor Torres, his attorney said. “We believe this will lead to a full exoneration.”

Fragozo initially was elected during districtwide elections in which top finishers made it to the board. Board trustees subsequently changed election procedures mandating trustees must live in specific districts they were elected to represent.

Publicly released search warrants filed by the District Attorney’s office cited concerns about Fragozo’s reported residence at 305 South Maple St. dating to a July 16, 2012 complaint.

Investigators said Joan Gardner, recently named EUSD board president, wrote a letter in July 2012 to the Secretary of State’s Office about Fragozo’s alleged lack of proper residency.

Search warrants said investigators started looking officially into Fragozo’s reported South Maple Street  address since Aug. 31, 2015. Investigators said Fragozo changed his voter registration form to the Old Escondido address within the newly formed school board district two days prior to filing candidacy papers on July 14, 2012.

During testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, prosecutors argued that motor vehicle, cellphone and tax records show that Fragozo lived primarily at his four-bedroom home at 28346 Crooked Oak Lane in Hidden Meadows, not at an apartment on South Maple Street, which he listed as his address with the Registrar of Voters.

Prosecutors also cited statements by Fragozo’s neighbors, acquaintances and family members that suggested he continued to live at the Hidden Meadows home after his election.

Fragozo said he was being victimized by fellow EUSD trustees and leadership for seeking to improve district educational performance specifically in regard to non-English speaking learners who make up a large portion of the district.

The stage was set this week with two days of hearings before San Diego Superior Court Judge Blaine Bowman  to determine whether the case could proceed through state courts. Fragozo and Torres called allegations hearsay.

Bowman said the evidence exceeds the standard required to bring the case to trial.

Fragozo’s attorney, Victor Torres, said the testimony presented in the preliminary hearing may have been enough to move the case forward, but it falls far short of proving that Fragozo didn’t live in the apartment while serving on the school board.

“It’s a very low burden for the prosecutors,” Torres said, outside the courtroom this week “The trial is for the jury to determine the facts beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr said he was confident prosecutors would prove their allegations when the case goes to trial this year. “We’re happy the judge saw it the way we do,” Schorr said.

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