Hawthorne men accused in voter fraud plot to obtain 8,000 mail ballots for 'nonexistent or deceased' persons

James Queally
The last day to request a mail ballot for the Nov. 4 general election is Tuesday.
Mail ballots in Los Angeles County. Two Hawthorne men have been charged with committing voter fraud. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As judges around the U.S. continue to dismiss claims of voter fraud by President Trump and his supporters, prosecutors and election officials in Los Angeles County said Tuesday that they had uncovered evidence of an actual attempt to fix an election — albeit a small, local one.

Carlos Antonio De Bourbon Montenegro, 53, and Marcos Raul Arevalo, 34, were charged with multiple counts of voter fraud after allegedly trying to register 8,000 "fictitious, nonexistent or deceased" voters to receive mail-in ballots. The scheme was part of an illicit bid by Montenegro to become mayor of Hawthorne, according to a criminal complaint made public Tuesday.

Montenegro and Arevalo allegedly used three recently registered post office boxes and Montenegro's home address to submit the fraudulent applications, which allowed election officials to quickly flag them as suspicious in mid-October, according to Dean Logan, the county's top election official.

While court records show at least 29 mail-in ballots were issued to people Montenegro and Arevalo had allegedly ginned up, none of the ballots were tallied in the general election, Logan said.

The case, he added, highlights how difficult it would be to carry out the widespread voter fraud President Trump and others have claimed was rampant in the 2020 election.

“What this does is it illustrates that election officials here as well as across the country take these issues very seriously. This was 8,000 registrations in a jurisdiction that has 5.8 million voters," said Logan, noting that the fraud narratives being pushed across the country would have required election officials to fail to notice misconduct on a massively larger scale.

Hawthorne's population is roughly 86,000 and the city has about 44,000 registered voters, according to the L.A. County Registrar's office. The number of voters the defendants are accused of trying to register would have boosted the city's electorate by nearly 20%, a jump which set off alarm bells in the registrar's office, Logan said. In addtion to the repeated use of Montenegro's home address on many of the applications, many used similar or identical Social Security numbers.

“We tracked where those voter registration forms were coming from and we notified the [California] Secretary of State and the district attorney’s office," Logan said.

Montenegro and Arevalo were scheduled to appear in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday, and both were being represented by court-appointed attorneys. The men and Hawthorne city officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the criminal complaint, the two men began attempting to collect signatures for Montenegro's mayoral bid sometime in July or August, and in early October submitted paperwork to nominate Montenegro that contained the names of 32 made-up or dead people who were said to support his candidacy.

in a bizarre Facebook screed, Montenegro claimed he had been "booted" from the mayoral race in late October and accused Hawthorne Mayor Alex Vargas of sexual harassment. Vargas won reelection with 40% of the vote, claiming 12,174 ballots in total. Montenegro's name did not appear in the registrar's tally of votes cast for candidates.

Montenegro — who was charged with 18 counts of voter fraud, two counts of perjury and a host of other misdemeanors — faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Arevalo, who was charged with conspiracy and multiple counts of voter fraud, faces up to eight years.

“I think that this is an example of how the system is supposed to work, that if you see something and something is suspect, you report it and we investigate it," Logan said. "In this case, it was stopped before any harm to the election could happen.”

Nearly 80% of the ballots cast in Los Angeles County during the general election were submitted by mail, and Logan has said his office was able to weather the surge in mail ballots without significant problems.

L.A. County ballot boxes briefly became a matter of national intrigue after Trump tweeted a video last week purporting to show mail-in ballots being collected from official drop boxes several days after the election. Officials in Logan's office, however, debunked the claim, saying the footage was taken the morning after the election and county employees were collecting ballots that had been cast before the boxes were locked at 8 p.m. on the night of the election.

Logan said his office is still investigating footage of a woman possibly interfering with mail-in ballots at a South L.A. senior center. The woman, who supported Joe Biden, was collecting incomplete ballots and promising to fill in the rest, according to a report by Eyewitness News. The case was also referred to the district attorney's office.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.