D.A. pays back county after video of campaign sign tampering surfaces

INDIO, Calif. - On Friday, Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach wrote a check to pay the county back for using a county car to put up campaign signs.  This stems from a cellphone video of Zellerbach and one of his aides allegedly tampering with his opponent Mike Hestrin's campaign sign.

The question remains tonight did Zellerbach break the law, when he put out his own campaign signs while in a county car. 

Zellerbach admits to being in a county owned car, on the way to official county business, but he  explains it in this statement.

"..Because my schedule was filled with official events during the morning as well as a campaign event later in the day, my campaign reimburses the county for the use of the car for the entire day."

We looked through all of Zellerbach's campaign filings going back several years   and found he never reimbursed the county for use of a car.

Friday afternoon Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Van Wagenen confirmed Zellerbach has never repaid the county, until Friday. 


We obtained  a copy of the invoice and his receipt showing that after our reports, he paid $203.28 to the county for use of the county car.

Zellerbach's opponent Mike Hestrin told us by phone it's too little to late. 

"If any Deputy District Attorney had done these things, they would be on their way to being fired.  There is no question about that, you cannot use county property for personal errands or campaigning and then when you get caught turn around and say oh I'm going to reimburse the county.  The county is not a rental agency," said Hestrin.

But, it doesn't end there, we also have reports discrediting Zellerbach's explanation of this cell phone video that started this all. 

The D.A. accused Javier Garcia Senior, the man who took the video, of targeting him because Zellerbach refused to give his son immunity in a grand jury case.

On Friday, News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 received a letter from the attorney representing Javier Garcia Jr.

His attorney said the accusations don't add up because Garcia Jr. is not a suspect, and never was a suspect in the grand jury case. His letter refers to Garcia Jr. as being a material witness, not a suspect who would need immunity.

A letter from the D.A.'s office, dated March 10, reads: (Letter documentation)

"Dear Javier Garcia, Jr.

In response to you and your attorney's concern, based on the current state of the evidence, you have been subpoenaed to testify before the Grand Jury as a material witness, not a target."

Garcia's family said Zellerbach needs to take responsibility for his own actions, not pass blame to a cooperating witness.

This political controversy continues with a second video being investigated by Indio Police. 

New surveillance video our stations received on Thursday from an Indio convenience store shows Zellerbach, at his campaign's own admission, taking down one or more of Hestrin's campaign signs on the property.

Zellerbach replaced the signs with his own, claiming the owner of the store allowed him to do so. But Hestrin said he received permission to have his signs posted on the property.

 "We had permission and my understanding is we still have permission.  I never gave anybody permission to take my signs, certainly didn't give Mr. Zellerbach permission to take these signs.," said Hestrin.

"One question that no one has asked is where are my signs, I paid for them my campaign paid for them, I see in the video Mr. Zellerbach put them in his truck in the county truck, I've never heard what happened to them.," said Hestrin.

 We tried several times to talk with the DA and give him an opportunity to respond. He has not yet return our calls.   

Continue to follow KESQ & CBS Local 2 as we deliver more details regarding the campaign sign controversy.

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