Orange County GOP seeks investigation into methods used in Lake Forest recall signature gathering
The Republican Party of Orange County is requesting an investigation into whether illegal methods were used by Lake Forest recall petitioners to gather signatures, the organization said in a statement.
Recall petitioners submitted 16,307 signatures calling for the recall of Councilman Andrew Hamilton on July 25 after nearly four months of work. Petitioners need 8,834 of those signatures to be certified by the OC Registrar of Voters in order for the recall to move forward.
This is the second time Hamilton has been the subject of a recall. A previous attempt in June 2016 against him and two other members of the City Council failed when the Registrar determined that petitioners had not collected enough certified signatures.
GOP officials have concerns that “a significant number of the submitted signatures may have been forged,” Fred Whitaker, chairman of the county GOP, said in the Aug. 11 statement. “We believe it is also possible that the recall proponents copied and pasted signatures collected from the previous recall effort.”
Supporters of the recall deny the allegations.
“The suggestion that signatures were copied and pasted is ridiculous and offensive,” said Larissa Fellick Clark, who organized the recall effort. “Their claims of forgery are baseless.”
Whitaker said his group asked Neal Kelley of the Registrar of Voters to determine whether the submitted signatures were collected in a lawful manner. The Registrar has until Sept. 6 to certify the signatures.
Kelley said that any investigation into the matter would be handled by the District Attorney’s office. Officials with the District Attorney’s office said the request is still in the review process.
Whitaker said his group is targeting resident and recall supporter Josue Vizcay as well as former Lake Forest Councilman Adam Nick, who was critical of Hamilton during his time on council.
The GOP statement includes a court record detailing that Vizcay was charged with passing forged bills, checks, drafts or notes in 2004 in Florida.
The court documents show Vizcay pleaded guilty, but was not convicted. Instead, he received an alternative to sentencing with a $450 fine and probation, which he successfully completed. Vizcay, in an email Monday, Aug. 14, said the charge was the result of a bounced check.
“I committed no crime other than (an) insufficient funds check to pay for my mother’s funeral,” Vizcay said in a separate email.
Whitaker said his group has informed Kelley about the court documents related to the charge against Vizcay.
GOP officials said they learned of the charge against Vizcay through Lake Forest residents “who oppose Adam Nick’s meddling in city affairs,” but did not identify the residents.
The statement also claims that Nick has been working with Vizcay and the recall committee, citing a non-monetary contribution of $704 to the committee for the placement of the intent to recall notice in the Saddleback Valley News.
“He’s grasping at straws,” Nick said of Whitaker in an interview Wednesday, Aug. 16. “They see the writing on the wall, people want (Hamilton) out. That’s the reason for the overwhelming number of signatures.”
Recall supporters targeted Hamilton for voting in favor of having Lake Forest contract with OC Animal Care and agreeing to help fund its new facility in Tustin. He was part of 4-1 vote in favor. They also contend he will vote to rezone the 45-acre Nakase nursery to allow hundreds of homes on Bake Parkway and that he secretly videotaped residents during the previous recall effort and creates copycat Facebook sites with misinformation about other council members.
Hamilton denied the allegations regarding social media. As for the animal shelter, he said improving the service the county provides is critical.
Clark said Vizcay’s involvement in the recall campaign included social media posts and helping to deliver the signatures to City Hall, but she said was not aware of him having any role in signature gathering.
Overall, the recall campaign received $3,350 in total contributions, including a $2,500 loan from Robert Schuman of The Schuman Group in La Jolla. But the committee also accrued more than $55,000 in expenses, more than $30,000 of which will need to be paid to The Schuman Group for consulting, petition circulation and printing.
Another $22,000 is owed to California Business Consultants in San Gabriel. John Bush, who is listed as the owner of the company, according to records, also posted Craigslist ads looking for signature gatherers and offering up to $5-$6 per valid signature.
Clark said she and her team were confident that in time enough money will be raised to clear all the debts.
The anti-recall campaign received $47,925 in contributions and spent $47,551, according to campaign finance disclosure forms. Toll Brothers, Inc., a major developer in Lake Forest that is looking to purchase the Nakase Nursery site to develop homes along Bake, contributed $33,500 to the campaign.
Of the other contributors, another $6,000 came from development- or home repair-related businesses and $5,000 came from the Association of Orange County Sheriffs.
Councilman Dwight Robinson contributed $1,000 and Gary Nakase, owner of the Nakase Nursery, donated $250.
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