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D.A. charges accused sign vandal

Steven White, 39, is still a city employee. Employee spokeswoman decries what she terms inequality in how the law is applied.

January 23, 2013|By Jill Cowan and Bradley Zint
(Courtesy Geoff…)

A Costa Mesa city employee suspected of illegally tampering with campaign signs has been charged with misdemeanor vandalism, prosecutors said Wednesday.

If convicted, Steven Charles White, 39, of Costa Mesa, faces a sentence ranging from probation to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine and restitution, the Orange County district attorney's office said in a news release.

Prosecutors said White, a city maintenance worker at the time, on Oct. 20 removed and destroyed two campaign signs posted along Fair Drive. One supported council candidates Steve Mensinger, Gary Monahan and Colin McCarthy, who campaigned together as the "3Ms"; the other supported Measure V, the proposed city charter.

The election was highly charged with many city employee associations and a community group opposing the 3Ms, who called for public-employee pension reforms and the charter measure, and a taxpayers group strongly supporting that measure and the candidates.

White has been on paid administrative leave since shortly after the incident pending the results of a separate personnel investigation, said city spokesman Bill Lobdell.

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"The city's administrative investigation has been completed, and the confidential personnel process is continuing," he said.

White's arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 25 at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.

On Oct. 24, prosecutors told the Daily Pilot they were considering charges against White, but did not announce their decision until Wednesday. The Pilot withheld identifying White at the time because he had not yet been officially accused of a crime.

Prosecutors said a private investigator who was looking into campaign sign vandalism videotaped White's actions. A campaigning council member hired the investigator who shot the footage near the grassy right-of-way at Fair and Columbia drives less than half a mile from City Hall, Costa Mesa police said at the time.

White lives near that intersection, according to the most recent voter registration records available.

In the nearly two-minute video, which the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. posted on its YouTube account, a barefoot man accompanied by a dog is pictured ripping the 3Ms' sign and throwing its pieces in a bush. The Measure V sign looked to be thrown in a driveway but not torn. A sign supporting council candidate Harold Weitzberg, who campaigned in opposition to the 3Ms and council majority, was untouched.

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