The 68th District

The 68th District

A candidate for state office may not have lived in the district he seeks to represent at the time he registered to vote, when he submitted his nomination papers, and when he voted there during the primary election, according to campaign finance and voter registration records and accounts from several neighbors.

Businessman Phu Nguyen, the Democratic candidate for the Costa Mesa-area 68th Assembly District, grew up in a home within the district and stated during an interview that he moved back in before he registered to vote, but neighbors and public records indicate that he did not.

If that is the case, election law experts say, he may have committed perjury on his voting affidavit and on his nomination papers, and may have voted fraudulently. Officials and legal experts cite the California election code, which says an Assembly candidate must be qualified to vote, and therefore have his or her "domicile" in the district.

Neighbors say that Nguyen, 33, wasn't living in his family's Westminster home, and was instead living in Santa Ana — outside of the 68th District — when he registered to vote Oct. 6, 2009, submitted his nomination papers March 10, 2010, and voted in the state primary June 8, 2010.

Nguyen disputed the Westminster residents' accounts and said they couldn't have been watching his home closely enough to know whether he lived there with his wife and children. He said multiple times in an interview that he moved into the Westminster house during spring 2009.

"The neighbors are wrong," he said. "They've seen me. They've seen my family."

Lives in district 'majority of the time'

In a follow-up interview, however, Nguyen changed his story and said his family split time between the two homes and spent "the majority of the time in Westminster," rather than at the Santa Ana house.

In addition to Costa Mesa, the 68th Assembly District includes Westminster, Garden Grove and Fountain Valley — but not the section of Santa Ana where Nguyen is believed to have lived.

Nguyen is seeking the open seat vacated by Assemblyman Van Tran, who is termed out, against Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor, a Republican who has made headlines for his hard stances against illegal immigration.

Nguyen's neighbors in Santa Ana say he was living in a home in that city steadily, until just about a month ago. Around the end of August he moved into a home in Garden Grove, which is in the 68th District. Nguyen owns all three properties; his parents added him to the Westminster title in December 2009.

During the time he claims to have lived in Westminster, Nguyen made two donations to political groups and listed his Santa Ana address, campaign finance records show.

Nguyen gave $300 to the Democratic Party of Orange County in November 2009 and $250 to Melissa Fox, another state Assembly candidate, in January 2010, according to the reports.

In both cases, the state or federal election finance records show, he is listed at his Santa Ana home. Nguyen said that he probably wrote checks at fundraisers, and that his old address was printed on them.

But the donation to Fox was made online with a credit card, records show. An online contributor to Fox's campaign is required to fill out an address along with credit card information.

Federal and state law requires that candidates and political action committees, or PACs, collect the donor's name, mailing address, occupation and name of employer, among other information.

"They have to fill it out on a card that we provide them when they make a contribution," said Frank Barbaro, chairman of the Democratic Party of Orange County, which is supporting Nguyen's campaign.

Nguyen said he doesn't remember if he filled out a form that asked for such information.

Accounts from neighbors

Hong Tran, who has lived across the street from the Westminster home for five years and has met Nguyen on multiple occasions, said the candidate hasn't lived there since she moved in.