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Woman Accused Of Forging San Jose Officials' Signatures On Petitions

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- A Daly City woman has been charged with forging the signatures of about 80 San Jose city officials and their spouses, including four City Council members, on petitions for a ballot measure on that passed in November, prosecutors said.

Laura Frei, 55, allegedly signed or had someone sign the names of the city officials and others on documents used to qualify Measure D to raise the minimum wage in San Jose from $8 to $10 an hour, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Judy Lee said.

Prosecutors believe that as many as 80 of the signatures Frei turned in last April for the measure were false, such as San Jose councilmembers Xavier Campos, Rose Herrera, Sam Liccardo and Donald Rocha, Lee said.

Additional signatures allegedly forged on the papers included those of City Manager Debra Figone, City Attorney Richard Doyle, then-City Clerk Dennis Hawkins and Hawkins' wife, Marie, and other city officials and their spouses, Lee said.

The district attorney's office stopped after confirming 16 fraudulent signatures for purposes of charging Frei with circulating a petition with false or forged signatures, a felony for which she faces up to three years in county jail, Lee said.

Frei, out on her own recognizance, failed to show for her arraignment Wednesday and the judge stayed a bench warrant for her arrest, giving Frei until Thursday to come to court and will issue the warrant if she does not, Lee said.

San Jose company H&H Petitions—which has not been charged—hired the defendant last year as a subcontractor to gather signatures for Measure D and paid her from $1,000 to $1,500 for about 200 signatures, Lee said.

An investigator for the district attorney's office interviewed 13 people about their signatures on Frei's petitions and all said they did not sign them, Lee said.

"This crime doesn't just affect the individuals whose signatures were forged," Lee said. "It is also a crime against the public because it undermines voter confidence in the electoral process."

The city first heard of the forgeries after the petitions were turned in last March, when an assistant to then-city clerk Hawkins noticed Hawkins' signature on one of the petitions, Lee said.

The assistant thought it unlikely for Hawkins, as a city official, to have signed a petition for a ballot initiative, Lee said.

Hawkins, now an administrative services manager for Santa Clara County, said Wednesday that he recalls seeing his and his wife's signatures forged twice on the petitions last year.

"As we did a further review, we found other irregularities and bought them to the attention of the Registrar of Voters and the district attorney," Hawkins said.

"It was quite a number of people who were city officials," Hawkins said. "There were some City Council members, members of the city administration and members of boards and commissions."

He and his staff at first were concerned if the initiative had enough qualified signatures to make the city's general election ballot, but the number of forgeries was far too low to disqualify it, Hawkins said.

As it turned out, the measure's campaign "had more than enough qualified signatures," Hawkins said.

In his position as city clerk last April, Hawkins notified the City Council that about 28,000 people signed petitions for Measure D, far more than the approximately 19,000 signatures needed to qualify, he said.

Measure D passed on Nov. 6 with 59.65 percent of San Jose residents voting for it out of nearly 300,000 votes cast, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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