Kelvin Barrios, a former staffer for Council President Georgette Gómez who now is waging a run-off campaign for her open seat, is the subject of a criminal investigation by local prosecutors, according to district attorney records reviewed by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The District Attorney’s Office probe is separate from a civil investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission that ended last November with Barrios admitting he misused thousands of dollars in political donations.
In that case, Barrios stipulated that he illegally used almost $8,000 in contributions made to two political organizations for his personal expenses — including food and clothing. He agreed to pay a fine of more than $4,000.
According to district attorney records dated as recently as last month, prosecutors are examining dozens of transactions Barrios made several years ago while serving as a volunteer campaign treasurer for a third political group, the now-defunct San Diego County Young Democrats.
The documents show the investigation is being conducted by the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, a specialized division created more than a decade ago that focuses exclusively on alleged criminal misconduct by elected officials and political candidates.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on its inquiry.
Barrios, who collected the most votes in a crowded field during the March primary election, declined to discuss the case when reached by telephone on Tuesday.
Instead, he requested that questions be sent to his campaign by email. His lawyer issued a statement Wednesday saying Barrios is unaware of any criminal investigation and pleased to have resolved the Fair Political Practices Commission case.
“At this time, Mr. Barrios is not aware of any District Attorney investigation to which he is a party of interest,” the statement said. “Mr. Barrios looks forward to moving beyond the past and appealing to his constituents about issues that matter to them in advance of the upcoming election.”
Barrios may be the front-runner in the District 9 race. He has secured some high-profile endorsements, including from Gómez, county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and the powerful San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.
In an unrelated development, the ethics committee of the San Diego County Democratic Party meets Sunday to take testimony about the allegations and to consider possible sanctions.
Meantime, county Democratic Party officials are meeting Tuesday to consider endorsements for the November ballot, including the District 9 council race between Barrios and Sean Elo.
Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy said it is not unusual for the ethics committee to review complaints, but the panel does not comment on its work. He also suggested voters focus on campaign issues rather than allegations cast late in close political races.
“It is not uncommon for one or both sides of a conflict to launch desperate, charged, last-minute attacks on the character of their opponent,” he said.
San Diego County Young Democrats’ records show that Barrios served as its volunteer treasurer between April 2015 and April 2017 and retained access to the committee’s bank accounts for two months after he left.
During much of the same period, Barrios also served as a paid treasurer to the California Young Democrats Latino Caucus and to the Michael D. Jackson campaign for the Chula Vista Elementary School District board.
According to the Fair Political Practices Commission stipulation Barrios signed in November, he wrote nine checks to himself for almost $1,800 in 2016 and 2017 and used the caucus debit card to make almost $800 in withdrawals and other spending.
He also admitted using the Jackson campaign debit card for over $3,000 in spending, writing checks to himself valued at almost $2,100 and failing to properly maintain financial records.
Barrios, who partially reimbursed the caucus and the Jackson campaign, said in November that he tended to serve political groups and candidates with limited funds who could not afford lawyers or professional treasurers to properly spend and report campaign funds.
“As a result, I made reporting and reimbursement mistakes that I take responsibility for,” his November statement said.
The District Attorney’s office is examining 29 expenditures from the San Diego County Young Democrats that total just over $3,600, including two dozen cash transfers directly to Barrios’s personal bank account, according to district attorney records. The political group later dissolved.
“Nine such transfers occurred after Barrios was no longer SDCYD treasurer, in amounts totaling $1,550,” the complaint to the Public Integrity Unit states.
The same document notes the amount is approximately the same amount as the $1,500 that Barrios partially reimbursed the caucus around the same time.
“Barrios appears to have been robbing Peter to pay Paul,” the complaint said.
Elo issued a statement Wednesday urging Barrios to apologize to the public for improperly using more than $10,000 in political contributions for personal expenses. He also called on his opponent to end his campaign.
“More than any year in generations, the public is desperate for leaders they can trust,” Elo wrote by email. “The misappropriation of funds that Kelvin Barrios is currently under investigation for is yet another example of his unworthiness of that trust.”
The allegations first surfaced late last year, when Elo announced publicly that he had filed a complaint about the spending with the Fair Political Practices Commission. He was among a new slate of officers elected to run the Young Democrats in 2017.
According to District Attorney’s Office records from the first week of July, the Fair Political Practices Commission rejected Elo’s complaint because Barrios had not been paid for his work with the San Diego County Young Democrats.
In the March primary, Barrios led a field of seven candidates for the District 9 seat. He secured 7,426 votes, or 31.6 percent of the ballots cast.
Elo was the runner-up with 4,819 votes, or 20.5 percent of the votes recorded.