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Jury: Drain guilty of voter fraud
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STOCKTON – A jury has found former Manteca Unified trustee Ashley Drain guilty on all 11 charges stemming from an election fraud cause that rocked the Manteca Unified School District.
One day after a holdout juror was removed from the jury and an alternate was brought in, Drain – who successfully unseated Manuel Medeiros in November of 2014 but never lived at the address that she listed on her paperwork that qualified her to run – was found guilty Friday on charges of election fraud, grand theft, perjury and welfare fraud stemming from the same case.
She was convicted of four counts related to a violation of the welfare code and seven counts related to the election code and will be sentenced on May 22.
Drain, who was charged in April of 2015 but stayed on as a board member until August when she resigned, made a video after she had filed paperwork listing her address in Weston Ranch that detailed an ongoing issue with her apartment managers.
That apartment building was just outside of Downtown Stockton, well out of the boundaries of Manteca Unified School District.
An investigation launched by the California Secretary of State’s office – which investigates election fraud and integrity issues – was conducted and the results were forwarded on to the San Joaquin District Attorney’s office for consideration. Those charges included election fraud for filing a false address as well as various charges related to welfare fraud because checks that were sent to her original address were cashed.
But the court proceedings and the trial were anything but routine.
Drain, who was charged along with trustee Alexander Bronson, declined to take the same plea deal that was offered to him and she ultimately went through multiple attorneys in her pursuit to clear her name. Because of information that came to light during the early court proceedings, trustee Sam Fant was also charged with election fraud and conspiracy, and her legal strategy mirrored his leading up to her trial.
It was Fant that initially tried to get the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office thrown off of the case citing racial bias, but the strategy proved to be unproductive. Drain attempted the same thing not long after that with the same result.
But race has been an issue throughout not only the trial and court proceedings, but also her time on the school board as well.
The lone black juror deciding her fate was, according to The Stockton Record, Jannet Stebbins – a San Joaquin Delta College Trustee who was, according to reports, the only one on the jury that was not willing to convict Drain at the beginning of deliberations.
Stebbins’ husband Mark made national news when he ran for the Stockton City Council in 1981 and his race, which he claimed was black, was challenged by Ralph Lee White. White appeared at a Manteca Unified School Board meeting on behalf of Fant – when Drain was still on the board – to rail against an employee who had pictures on her Facebook page that included the confederate flag. That employee clarified that the flag was being presented as part of a “Dukes of Hazzard” birthday party, and Fant was roundly criticized in a report of the San Joaquin County Grand Jury for leaving the meeting without permission to conduct an interview with a television news crew that he claimed he never called.
Prior to the meeting Fant brought in the photographs in question to The Bulletin requesting that a story be written.
And race was a central focus of one of the defining moments of her tenure on the board which was also mentioned negatively in the Grand Jury report.
Drain was one of the driving forces behind the removal of Weston Ranch Principal Jose Fregoso, and made comments about “racial insensitivity” on campus after a janitor had a testy run-in with a student and was subsequently suspended. She operated an after-school program for youth in the Weston Ranch community, despite the fact, the District Attorney’s claims, she never actually lived there, and the student who was suspended was a participant in her program. Drain allegedly used her position to try and lobby on behalf of the student, and was not pleased with Fregoso’s receptiveness to her participation.
Bronson, who accepted a plea deal, is currently awaiting sentencing and Fant is expected to go to trial in September.
According to the DA’s office, a total of three jurors were excused in the case – two sitting jurors and an alternate juror. The alternate juror, according to the release, was excused for cause while the first seated juror was excused for a family emergency and was replaced by an alternate. The second seated juror, who is believed to be Stebbins, was reported to the court for not deliberating properly, and after an investigation, the decision was made to excuse her and bring in the remaining alternate.
The new jury was assembled on Friday morning, and after deliberating anew, they reached a verdict at around 2:30 p.m.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.