Richard Alarcon

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, shown at his sentencing in October, surrendered Friday to begin serving his 51-day term under house arrest. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

By Soumya Karlamangla
December 5, 2014

It took state investigators more than five years to build a criminal case against Richard Alarcon.

To prove Alarcon lied about living outside the Los Angeles City Council district he was elected to represent, they conducted surveillance, questioned neighbors and served search warrants at his two homes. The case went through a grand jury before a month-long trial ended with Alarcon being found guilty and given a four-month jail sentence.

But when the veteran L.A. politician turned himself in Friday to begin his sentence, county jailers strapped an electronic monitor to his ankle and sent him away to serve 51 days under house arrest. Another politician accused of breaking residency laws, former state Sen. Roderick Wright, met a similar fate earlier this year. After he showed up to start his 90-day sentence, he was released almost immediately because the jail was already overcrowded with more serious offenders.

The cases have left some wondering whether they were worth all the time, effort and cost.

“It’s hard for me to think that the state of California will be better governed by these cases being brought forward,” said UCLA Law School professor emeritus Daniel Lowenstein, who questioned whether prosecutors should instead focus on political corruption cases with broader public consequences, such as bribery or campaign money laundering.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey declined to comment on the jail terms served by Alarcon and Wright, but she pledged to “continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute” such residency cases. In arguing for a stiff sentence after Alarcon’s conviction, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michele Gilmer declared to the judge that “Richard Alarcon is not remorseful … he remains utterly unrepentant.”

Wright’s and Alarcon’s convictions are just the latest in an uncommon trend; in a little more than a decade, nine politicians in L.A. County have been successfully prosecuted for lying about their residency when they ran for office.

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