What do you do when you are a former rising political Latino star who has been convicted for voter fraud and are now confined to your home wearing a monitoring ankle bracelet?
You play poker. Lots of it. Online poker, that is.
Thats what former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon did recently while under house arrest. Long hours of Texas Hold Em helped the career politician lick his wounds in the comfort of his home, while he also ran his consulting firm and perhaps even planted the seeds for rising to power one day down the road.
Im a poker feak, says Alarcon.
And whos to say that he might not still draw an inside straight to a new life?
So for 51 days until last month, while under house arrest, the 61-year-old dean of Latino politics in the San Fernando Valley played poker and did almost anything he wanted to do. He even drove to work and travelled for meetings.
This was all Los Angeles prosecutors had to show for a three-years-long case against Richard Alarcon and his wife that included a month-long trial, all at a taxpayer cost of tens of thousands of dollars, which may wind up being well into six-figures because the legal fighting continues. The Alarcons, who have appealed, could still win vindication.
A month in jail for voter fraud
Their conviction of multiple counts of voter fraud and perjury last July resulted in a 120-day jail sentence that Alarcon says he honestly thought he would have to serve.
But when he turned himself in, Alarcon learned that his sentence had been dropped to less than a month and a half of home detention wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet on a leg. The reason for the reduced sentence is that California jails and prisons are so severely overcrowded with violent felons and drug offenders that most white-collar offenders are being given home detention after a few days of confinement, if that at all.
Cracking down on public official corruption makes for big headlines, though some believe cases like the ones against the Alarcons are little more than citation offenses, which ultimately profit only high-priced defense lawyers and politically ambitious prosecutors.
The important word in all this is politics.
Richard Alarcon was a big fish a powerful City Councilman, a former State Assemblyman and State Senator, a pioneer in California Latino politics, a well-liked public official who might have had the congressional office Tony Cardenas won in 2012, had he not been derailed by this scandal.
And Alarcons offense?
He and his wife owned two homes in neighboring San Fernando Valley communities, one inside his district and one outside the district, though within a short drive of one another a good jog if that’s your thing. Alarcon lived in the house outside the district but allegedly lied while running for office, saying he lived in the home within the district.
Prosecutors have been cracking down on this kind of violation in recent years. But there was a time in the 1980s when then California State Assemblyman Art Torres, who later became head of the Democratic Party, was registered as living in a small East Los Angeles apartment along with half a dozen aides and then Assembly candidate Gloria Molina.
Of course, it was all a ruse, alleged voter registration fraud if there was ever, but prosecutors passed on the case and no one got even a ticket. Molina went on to a long political career in the legislature, the Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors from which she retired. She is now running for the City Council again.
In the Alarcon case, prosecutors are now consoling themselves that they ended his political career, which may be a premature celebration.
Alarcon is now working with Hollywood film actor Danny Trejo and his foundation. Trejo, himself an ex-con, is one of the most popular Latinos in Los Angeles, especially in his San Fernando Valley home turf.
And those political districts in Alarcons neighborhoods and around the senior center where he is now doing 600 hours of community service, are possibly the poorest in Los Angeles and also home to some of the most hardened gangs in the city gangs where Alarcon helped produce a truce that has made life safer there.
If Richard Alarcon ever needed modern day credibility, hanging out with Danny Trejo in todays Los Angeles gang land cant hurt.
Then there are those voters who have stuck by Alacon, among them Karl Murillo who was helped by the former councilman after a trailer park fire destroyed his home.
I would vote for him again, says Murillo. I know he got a little jammed up, but he was so helpful.