The State Elections Enforcement Commission has referred Bridgeport state Rep. Christina Ayala for criminal prosecution in connection with a phony address she used to apply for public financing during her 2012 campaign for the General Assembly.
The commission on Wednesday recommended five potential criminal charges, including felonies of fabricating evidence and fraud. The commission’s findings follow a Hearst Connecticut Newspapers investigation in December that revealed Ayala was living outside her district.
The charges were serious enough to compel Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey to immediately remove the first-term lawmaker from her membership on three legislative committees.
But if the decision and its immediate and potential consequences upset Ayala, she didn’t show it Wednesday afternoon.
Not reachable by phone all day, she was found around 4:30 p.m. sitting at her father Tito’s bar on Beechwood Avenue knocking back shots in celebration of her sister Anis’ birthday.
“It is an ongoing investigation,” Ayala said of the commission’s recommendation. “Unfortunately at this moment I cannot comment.”
But asked whether she would consider stepping down from the legislature, she replied, “All I will say is I love my job.”
Christina Ayala also wouldn’t talk about the state panel’s recommendation that her mother, Democratic Registrar of Voters Santa Ayala, be criminally investigated for fraud and conspiracy for allowing her daughter to use a false address on Noble Avenue as her place of residence between 2009 and 2013. The investigation revealed evidence that Santa Ayala knew of and may have cooperated in the fraud.
“I don’t have any comment. Obviously, the city attorneys are involved,” the registrar said in a brief interview Wednesday.
Since the issue involves her actions as Bridgeport’s Democratic registrar of voters, the city attorney’s office will be involved in her defense.
Santa Ayala’s actions previously came under fire during the 2010 gubernatorial election, when she and other election officials failed to order enough ballots, delaying for days the outcome of the election.
Hearst Connecticut Newspapers first reported about Christina Ayala’s false address last year, after the discrepancy was noticed in a police report on an incident in which she was involved.
Ayala, a Democrat, allegedly listed an address where she did not live when applying for the Citizens Election Program, which provides campaign money for candidates who reach threshold limits of no more than $100 per contribution.
An elections commission investigation found that Ayala voted in nine different elections using that address, when she actually resided elsewhere.
“There is evidence that she ran for elected office twice from this false address during the period, including for the office she currently holds,” said the report of a commission attorney. “There is evidence that she also applied for funds from the Citizens’ Election Program using this false address. Additionally, the investigation revealed evidence that Representative Ayala fabricated evidence in response to this investigation, with the intent of misleading Commission staff.”
Sharkey immediately took Ayala off the Appropriations, Housing and Children’s committees.
“For an elected official, maintaining the public trust is paramount,” he said. “The fact that this case has moved to a different level calls into question whether that trust has been breached. Until this matter is resolved, I have relieved Representative Ayala of her membership from her assigned legislative committees.”
In a statement, Mayor Bill Finch, who had avoided commenting on Christina Ayala’s troubles until recently, said he was alarmed by the allegations against both mother and daughter.
“These are a very serious, alarming and troublesome series of allegations regarding election laws involving Christina Ayala and Santa Ayala,” he said. “These allegations seem to reflect a very disturbing pattern of behavior, but at this juncture they are just that — allegations — which must be investigated to the fullest extent by the appropriate authorities. The investigation will have to run its course, and I will reserve further comment until the findings are in.”
Staff writers Brian Lockhart and Daniel Tepfer contributed to this story.