Tan D. Nguyen denied knowing anything about the letter in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press but said he fired a campaign staffer who may have been responsible for it.
County Republican Chairman Scott Baugh, however, said that after speaking with state investigators and the company that distributed the mailer, he believes Nguyen had direct knowledge of the letter. He told the AP that the party's executive committee voted unanimously to Nguyen to drop out of race against Democratic U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez.
Nguyen said he believed an employee in his office might have used his voter data base to send out the letter without his knowledge. He said that employee has been "discharged."
The letter, written in Spanish and mailed last week to an estimated 14,000 Democratic voters in central Orange County, tells recipients: "You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time."
In fact, immigrants who are naturalized U.S. citizens can legally vote.
It is illegal to threaten or intimidate voters, though, and the complaints about the letters that began surfacing this week prompted state and federal investigations.
"I will do whatever I can do to encourage all citizens in this district to vote," Nguyen said. He said he was cooperating with authorities and promised more details of what happened during a news conference Friday.
In an interview Thursday morning, Sanchez told the AP she had never spoken to Nguyen because her campaign didn't see him as a threat to her re-election.
She said she didn't know who did it, but if it was Nguyen, it was especially troubling that the culprit might have been an immigrant. Nguyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam as a child. His campaign Web site says he opposes illegal immigration.
"If it is in fact this guy, the most disgusting and saddest thing about it is that it comes from another immigrant," said Sanchez, who was born in the United States to Mexican parents. "These communities have spent years trying to get naturalized immigrants to vote."
The owner of Huntington Beach-based Mailing Pros, Christopher West, told The Orange County Register that he was hired to do the mailings but didn't know what they said and didn't know any laws were being broken when the mailer was sent. He said he gave investigators the name of the person who hired him.
"I'm the one that processed it, and I don't read Spanish," West said. "Until the investigator read it to me, I didn't know the content."
Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, condemned the letter as "an obnoxious, grotesque piece of work."
"Regardless of who did it — Republican or Democrat — if it's a crime, then whoever did it should be prosecuted," Baugh said.
The note's letterhead resembles that of an anti-illegal immigration group, California Coalition for Immigration Reform. But group leader Barbara Coe said she told investigators for the attorney general's office Wednesday that her group didn't authorize the letter and she didn't know who sent it.
"The letterhead was altered and I've never head of any Sergio Ramirez," the name signed to the letter, Coe said.