MARCH 11, 2014
Imagine getting convicted for multiple felonies and taking an “indefinite” leave of absence from work with no cut in your lucrative pay or threat of losing your job. This may sound delusional, but it’s the real-life story of a veteran legislator in the nation’s most populous state.
His name is Roderick Wright and he’s been a state senator in California since 2008, representing largely poor, minority communities in Los Angeles county that include Inglewood, Lawndale, Compton, Gardena and West Carson. Senator Wright is a black Democrat in a famously liberal state with a throwback-from-the-70s-and-80s-governor, Jerry Brown.
In late January a Los Angeles county jury found Senator Wright guilty of eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury. The shameful convictions were delivered four years after an L.A. grand jury indicted the lawmaker on the same counts. Wright, who previously served in the state assembly, illegally claimed a bogus residence when he initially ran for the state senate. Prosecutors charged him with one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy, five counts of voter fraud and two counts of perjury. He was also charged with fraudulently voting in elections in 2008 and 2009.
After getting convicted the disgraced legislator decided to take a leave of absence from his cushy public job, which pays $90,525, more than double what many of the constituents he represents make. The felon lawmaker needs to prepare to fight the convictions so he’s just collecting his taxpayer salary while he works with his legal team to appeal the case. Evidently, California’s constitution prevents withholding the pay of a state legislator who has been suspended or is on a leave of absence.
Taxpayers might logically counter that this is different because Wright hasn’t just been suspended, he’s actually been criminally convicted in a U.S. court of law. The veteran legislator has benefited from due process. He was innocent until proven guilty and should be stripped of his public salary while he awaits sentencing. California’s senate leader, Democrat Darrell Steinberg, disagrees and granted Wright the paid leave. Steinberg actually told a mainstream newspaper that it would be premature to expel his pal before a trial judge affirmed his conviction and sentenced him.
This month Wright told the state’s largest newspaper that it’s been “challenging” to be away from work. “I have been kinda, sorta involved in public policy for a long time,” he said. The reporter asked Wright why he didn’t voluntarily forgo pay during his leave of absence. Here is the outrageous response: Get ready for the answer: “Why would I do that? If I were a police officer and I shot someone, I wouldn’t be asked to do that. There are no other state employees that would be asked to do that. Why should I be treated differently than someone who works at the highway patrol or the DMV?” He forgot to mention a crucial detail; he’s been convicted of multiple felonies!
Another California state senator, Democrat Ronald Calderon, could also be on his way to the slammer and is receiving full pay while he fights federal corruption charges. The feds say Calderon accepted nearly $100,000 in cash bribes as well as plane trips, gourmet dinners and trips to golf resorts in exchange for supporting legislation that would benefit those paying the bribes. The lawmaker thought the bribes were coming from a hospital owner and independent film studio but instead it was the FBI, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). A federal grand jury has indicted Calderon with mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.
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