Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Contra Costa County DA is under criminal investigation
Blog note: this article references a May 2017 Contra Costa County civil grand jury report recommending that the district attorney be removed from office.
Contra Costa County’s district attorney, who admitted months ago to improperly diverting $66,000 in campaign contributions for his personal use, is under criminal investigation by the state attorney general.
A spokesman for Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Friday that a search warrant had been served in connection with District Attorney Mark Peterson, who was elected to a second four-year term in 2014 as Contra Costa County’s top prosecutor.
Peterson, 58, confirmed to The Chronicle that he was under investigation.
“I was contacted by the attorney general’s office yesterday, and we are fully cooperating with the investigation,” Peterson said Friday.
He declined to discuss the details around the case or the search warrant, and a spokesman for Becerra’s office declined to say what charges could be brought against the district attorney. Peterson said he has not been arrested or charged with any crime.
For months, Peterson has fought allegations of misconduct and misuse of campaign funds, even as he prepares to run for re-election.
Peterson, first elected district attorney in 2010, admitted in December to spending more than $66,000 from his political campaign fund on personal expenses — a violation of state law, for which he was fined $45,000 by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
The commission’s investigators found Peterson used campaign funds between 2011 and 2015 for meals, gas, clothes, movie tickets, hotels, phone bills, cash withdrawals and other personal expenses. He also transferred money from the political account to his personal bank account, according to a settlement between Peterson and the commission.
“Although I have fully reimbursed the committee for all of the personal expenditures, I make no excuses,” Peterson said in a statement to The Chronicle at the time. “I am humbled and embarrassed by my mistakes, for which I take full responsibility, and I apologize for my regrettable errors.”
Investigators totaled 600 personal expenditures that Peterson made from his political account. Peterson reimbursed the political account for about half of what he spent, but not all of it was paid back until he learned in October 2015 that state tax auditors would be launching a review. After he was notified of the audit, Peterson reimbursed the campaign fund for the rest of what he had spent, according to the commission investigation.
Last month, a Contra Costa County civil grand jury recommended that Peterson be removed from office in connection with the campaign fund spending. The president of the prosecutors’ union, Aron DeFerrari, said Friday that Peterson’s “malfeasance” cast a shadow over their work.
“Every single day the prosecutors in this office work hard to protect the people of this county and get justice for victims of crime,” DeFerrari said in a statement. “As line prosecutors, our efforts to bring justice will never relent, but we are ready to close this chapter in our office history.”
In addition to the criminal case, Peterson is the target of civil proceedings that could result in his removal from office. The grand jury’s report prompted a hearing in Contra Costa County Superior Court set for Wednesday, at which a judge could appoint a special prosecutor to potentially seek Peterson’s removal.
June 9, 2017
By Kimberly Veklerov, San Francisco Chronicle staff writer