Senator Rod Wright (Sentinel File Photo)
State Sen. Roderick Wright was convicted of multiple fraud and perjury charges for living outside the district he was elected to represent. Prosecutors said the Democrat owned an Inglewood property as a “prop,” but actually lived in Baldwin
Hills. Wright was convicted of five counts of voter fraud, two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy.
He was indicted in September 2010, capping an investigation that began after prosecutors received a complaint he was living outside the district. He faces up to eight years and four months behind bars when he is sentenced March 12 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy. Wright declined to comment as he left court. He will remain free on bail pending sentencing.
Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd told jurors during trial that Wright’s Inglewood property was “a Hollywood prop.”
“He never intended for that to be the place for him to stay,” Dodd said.
Wright’s attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, maintained that the senator had “followed the law,” telling jurors the lawmaker had “established domicile” at the Inglewood property where his stepmother was renting a unit.
“Their case is unsupported by the existing law,” Wright’s attorney said. “There’s no fraud here. There’s no victims. There’s no crime.
“This prosecution is offensive … To find him guilty of any charge in this case would be a gross injustice,” McKesson said.
Prosecutors said the 61-year-old politician lived at the Baldwin Hills house between 2007 and 2009 — the time period cited in the charges. But Wright’s attorney countered that “they don’t know the law,” saying the word “live” is not in the elections code and calling the investigation “careless.” McKesson said Wright was using the Baldwin Hills property as an office to deal with matters that couldn’t legally be handled at his district office in Inglewood and never considered that property as his principal place of residence.
Wright testified that he had never taken a homeowner’s exemption on the Baldwin Hills property.
“I don’t consider it to be my primary residence,” the senator testified.
He said he had never registered to vote using the Baldwin Hills address or changed his driver’s license to that address, explaining, “I’ve never considered it a domicile.”
Wright said he took steps to try to ensure that the Inglewood property was his domicile after deciding to run for the state Senate, saying he established tenancy in one of the units on the site. He said he suggested that he and his stepmother share a house after he learned that she was renting out the unit he intended to occupy, telling jurors he made it clear to her that he would be “coming and going.” The legislator said he moved in his personal items, including toiletries, clothing and some books, and changed his voter registration to establish domicile at the Inglewood property. Under cross-examination, Wright maintained that he had “fixed habitation” at the Inglewood property, describing habitation as a “place where you have a legal right to be.”
“Habitation, in my mind, means a place I can stay if I choose to,” the senator said under questioning by Dodd.
According to the biography on his Senate website, Wright “is a home and business owner in the city of Inglewood where he remains active in community and civic affairs.” The district Wright represents includes cities such as Inglewood, Gardena, Compton, Long Beach, Torrance and Wilmington.