Escondido trustee faces another legal battle

Escondido trustee faces another legal battle
Escondido Union School District Trustee Jose Fragozo, middle, and his attorney, Victor Torres, right, listen to testimony during his preliminary hearing on 13 felony counts relating to voter registration fraud. Photo by Steve Puterski

VISTA — While one court action ended in victory, embattled Escondido Union School District Trustee Jose Fragozo faces another legal battle.

This time, however, it’s against the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, who alleges the first-term trustee misrepresented his place of residence to get elected in District 1. He pleaded not guilty to 13 felony charges at his arraignment earlier this year.

Fragozo appeared Tuesday in the Vista Superior Court and after one-and-a-half days of testimony, the case will move forward. Fragozo is scheduled to appear for an arraignment May 18.

Several witnesses were called, including Sterling Hammond, an investigator for the California Secretary of State’s Office.

Hammond detailed his investigation, which did not begin in earnest until April 2015. He said the office received a complaint against Fragozo in November 2012 after the election.

Hammond was given the case file in January 2013; although he said his supervisor said at the time it was not a “priority.” After he worked his way through other cases, Hammond came to Fragozo’s case and investigated the claims of his residency at an apartment on Maple Street in Escondido’s District 1.

However, Fragozo’s driver’s license, vehicle registration and homeowner’s tax exemptions all listed an address on Crooked Oak Lane.

Deputy District Attorney Leon Shore questioned Hammond about the legitimacy of the two residences. Hammond said for election purposes, only one “domicile” can be used to register to vote and run as a candidate.

Hammond said he spoke with Fragozo in April 2015 and questioned him about the two homes. In previous media reports, Fragozo said he lived in the apartment with his wife.

Hammond, though, said Fragozo was separated from his wife and lived in the apartment alone. Hammond also said when he went to the apartment in April 2015, there was no furniture inside and the property manager did not recognize Fragozo and she said she did not see any furniture in the apartment during inspections.

Fragozo’s attorney, Victor Torres, countered during his cross-examination that the investigation turned up no rental agreement or lease. In addition, he challenged Hammond’s investigation saying the investigator did not know the reasons Fragozo would have made such claims.

Shore, though, asked about Fragozo’s temperament during Hammond’s phone call with him several days after not seeing him at either residence.

“People are not happy when they learn things like this,” Hammond said. “He hung up on me.”

However, Fragozo called back several days later and said, according to Hammond, he did not think he had done anything wrong as the Registrar of Voters and Secretary of State’s Office had filed no complaints. In addition, Hammond said Fragozo seemed surprised at the inquiry since he won the election and no one brought it to his attention.

Hammond also confirmed Fragozo used the Maple Street address for his California Voter Registration and Declared Candidacy forms.

Hammond said Fragozo changed the address on his driver’s license in May 2015 after the two spoke about the investigation. Torres, though, said his client still has not received the updated license and there is no evidence supporting any wrongdoing by changing the address.

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