The race for Fresno County’s auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector became heated this week when a critic of incumbent Oscar J. Garcia dug up his 2001 arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor child molestation.
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Garcia pleaded no contest to the charge in November 2001. Under a plea agreement, Garcia’s case was dismissed in November 2002 after he stayed out of trouble for a year.
On Monday, Garcia, 55, declined to talk about his arrest. Instead, he issued a statement: “It saddens me that the opponent or his supporters would take a 17 year family situation and try to use it to their political advantage.”
In his statement, Garcia contended the dismissal of his case amounted to an exoneration.
His opponent, David Keyes, 57, took issue with Garcia’s declaration of exoneration, calling it a “lie, full stop.”
“This shows utter disrespect for victims of child molestation and to the seriousness of the charge,” Keyes said. “He pleaded no contest and signed the plea form.”
Keyes said one of his supporters, Gail Gaston, dug up Garcia’s criminal past from the court system. Gaston, a well-known local political activist, said she supports Keyes, but does not work for his campaign.
“It’s a public record and relevant to the issue of his character,” Keyes said. “The public has a right to know before they cast their votes.”
The two candidates are in the Nov. 6 runoff because in the June primary Garcia received 55,301 votes and Keyes had 49,131. That equates to 48.3 percent of the vote for Garcia and 43.3 percent for Keyes. To win in the June primary, a candidate had to have at least 50 percent plus one vote.
Garcia took office in September 2016 when the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to appoint him to replace Vicki Crow, who retired. Garcia has received campaign donations from Supervisors Buddy Mendes, Brian Pacheco and Nathan Magsig, as well as from District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.
On his Facebook page, there’s a photograph of him shaking hands with Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. But Dyer said on Monday he is neither endorsing nor supporting Garcia, but agreed to have his picture taken with Garcia at a recent 9/11 memorial after Garcia said his brother was a Fresno police officer.
Dyer said he was not aware of any past law enforcement contacts with Garcia.
Garcia’s 2001 arrest came to light Monday just hours before the Board of Supervisors and the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association were scheduled to hold a fundraiser for him.
According to Garcia’s 2001 arrest warrant, he went into a child’s bedroom in his home in Selma on May 15, 2001, and “told her to remove her blankets and to not make a sound.” When he grabbed the blankets, the girl screamed for her mother. “Oscar Garcia then fled the room and acted as though nothing had happened,” the warrant says.
Garcia never touched the victim. “However, the juvenile female was visibly shaken by the incident,” the warrant says.
In general, Garcia pleaded to a charge that says it is illegal to annoy or molest any minor while motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in the minor. But his plea agreement is not a conviction. That’s because after a year of good behavior, then-Judge Dale Ikeda reinstated Garcia’s not guilty plea and granted the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the case, court records show. His arrest, however, remains on his rap sheet.
“This was a very difficult time in my family’s life, (and) it was decided that I would follow the legal path that I did in order to spare any more anguish, and eventually I was exonerated,” Garcia said Monday in his statement, which noted that he was not required to register as a sex offender or do any jail time.
“This is a sad day in Fresno County politics,” Garcia’s statement says. “I will be making no more statements regarding this.”
What supervisors are saying
County spokesman Jordan Scott said the county “did not perform a criminal background check on Garcia as one was not required for the position.”
However, the county did require all applicants for the vacant auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector position to hold a certified public accountant license, he said. For CPAs, all convictions, including no-contest pleas, are reported to the California Board of Accountancy for a determination as to whether disciplinary or action is necessary.
“At the time Mr. Garcia was appointed, he was a CPA in good standing with the CBA, indicating that there was no criminal history that prevented Mr. Garcia from practicing as a CPA,” Scott said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Sal Quintero, who joined the board in January 2017 after Garcia was appointed, said this week that he also was unaware of Garcia’s arrest and didn’t have enough facts to comment about him. “I want to reserve judgment,” Quintero said.
Smittcamp, who donated $250 to Garcia’s campaign, also said she wanted to reserve judgment until she reads the police reports about the incident. But Smittcamp said Garcia “has done a high-quality job since taking over as auditor-controller.”
Mendes, who has donated $22,382 to Garcia’s campaign, and Magsig, who has donated $5,000, said they stand by Garcia, and they don’t like what his opponent is doing.
“This is dirty campaigning at its best,” Magsig said. “It’s obvious his opponent has nothing better to talk about.”
Mendes said Garcia “is a great accountant” and public servant who came to Fresno County after spending years as assistant auditor-controller for Tulare County. Garcia also worked for Price, Paige & Associates and Douglas Smith as a certified public accountant.
“He has saved the county millions of dollars,” Mendes said.
On the other hand, Mendes said, Keyes has no government experience in accounting or auditing. Because of Garcia, Mendes said, “this is the first time the county has a set of books that they can trust.”
Keyes, however, said he has better credentials than Garcia. He is a certified public accountant, a certified fraud examiner and a chartered certified accountant, which allows him to practices in more than 100 counties.
“They are trying to buy the election,” Keyes said of supervisors who have donated to Garcia’s campaign. By accepting the money, Garcia could have a conflict in “watching the people he is suppose to watch,” Keyes said.
“If elected, I will be a strong independent auditor and a good steward of the public trust,” Keyes said.