Con­tra Costa County D.A. quits amid cam­paign money scan­dal

Of­fi­cial takes a plea deal on a sin­gle charge af­ter fac­ing 13 felonies over mis­use of funds.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Richard Win­ton richard.win­ton @la­times.com Twit­ter: @lacrimes

The district at­tor­ney of Con­tra Costa County pleaded no con­test to a felony per­jury charge then promptly re­signed Wed­nes­day, hours af­ter be­ing charged with us­ing more than $66,000 in cam­paign funds to pay per­sonal bills and to buy jew­elry and other items.

Mark Peter­son en­tered his plea to a sin­gle count of per­jury. A judge promptly sen­tenced him to three years’ in­for­mal pro­ba­tion and or­dered him to serve 250 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice. Shortly af­ter­ward, Peter­son also re­signed from his of­fice.

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, the Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice had charged Peter­son with 12 counts of felony per­jury and a sin­gle count of felony grand theft for al­legedly ly­ing on his cam­paign dis­clo­sure forms from 2012 to 2015.

In ex­change for the no con­test plea to the one felony, pros­e­cu­tors dropped the other charges. Peter­son is­sued no state­ment.

The felony counts came af­ter a county grand jury for­mally ac­cused the county’s top pros­e­cu­tor of “will­ful or cor­rupt” mis­con­duct and be­gan sep­a­rate pro­ceed­ings to re­move him from of­fice.

Peter­son was fined $45,000 in Jan­uary af­ter a state in­ves­ti­ga­tion dis­closed the per­sonal ex­pen­di­tures to the Cal­i­for­nia Fair Po­lit­i­cal Prac­tices Com­mis­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to the FPPC in­quiry, Peter­son used cam­paign funds for about 600 per­sonal ex­pen­di­tures to­tal­ing $66,372, in­clud­ing gro­ceries, jew­elry store bills and movie tick­ets.

Peter­son was de­tained last week by state in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and his iPhone, iPad and other records were seized un­der a search war­rant as part of the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

First elected district at­tor­ney in 2010, Peter­son ran un­op­posed in 2014. But his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer fal­tered in De­cem­ber 2016 when ques­tions arose about cam­paign fund ex­pen­di­tures and with­drawals.

Petersen ac­knowl­edged to the FPPC that he used cam­paign funds for per­sonal ex­penses when he served as trea­surer for his re­elec­tion cam­paign. Peter­son has main­tained that he bor­rowed the money with the in­ten­tion of pay­ing it back. He ad­mit­ted to the vi­o­la­tions and said he was “hum­bled and em­bar­rassed” by them.

In levy­ing its Jan­uary fine, the FPPC ruled that Peter­son vi­o­lated Cal­i­for­nia’s po­lit­i­cal re­form act nine times.

Then, in May, a civil grand jury rec­om­mended that Peter­son be re­moved from his po­si­tion. The grand jury found that Peter­son had en­gaged in “will­ful or cor­rupt mis­con­duct in of­fice.”

Af­ter the civil grand jury called for his ouster, Con­tra Costa County pros­e­cu­tors gave Peter­son an over­whelm­ing vote of no con­fi­dence.

“Ev­ery sin­gle day the pros­e­cu­tors in this of­fice work hard to pro­tect the peo­ple of this county and get jus­tice for vic­tims of crime,” said Aron DeFer­rari, pres­i­dent of the Con­tra Costa County pros­e­cu­tors union. “We have done our jobs in the shadow of Mr. Peter­son’s malfea­sance for too long. … As line pros­e­cu­tors, our ef­forts to bring jus­tice will never re­lent, but we are ready to close this chap­ter in our of­fice his­tory.”

Paul Chinn San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle

MARK PETER­SON was charged with us­ing tens of thou­sands in cam­paign funds for per­sonal ex­penses.

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