Tan Nguyen's Latino Voter Suppression Case Inching To Trial

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Nguyen to Latinos: Voting can be "dangerous"
In 2006, then five-term Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez faced yet another pathetic Republican challenger, Tan Nguyen, a candidate who equated plastering his campaign placards on every stick, fence and pole in the district with some sort of victory. Honestly, I wouldn't have known of Nguyen's existence (much less his stances) except for those damn ubiquitous posters. 

But Nguyen, who has run for public office as a Democrat and as a Republican, had a special knack for flair. Using a fake name, his failing campaign mailed 14,000 thinly veiled Spanish language threats to Latinos, or--wink, wink--illegal immigrants who tend to vote Democratic in the 47th Congressional District, according to the feds. In part, the letter asserted, "It is useless and dangerous to vote."

Sanchez, whose electoral support has always transcended her ethnicity, nevertheless went on to trounce Nguyen at the polls.

Though outwardly cocky, Nguyen didn't have the backbone to attach his name to the letter. But law enforcement officers say they eventually obtained evidence that the document was not just Nguyen-inspired but secretly paid for by his campaign. There are also questions about how honestly he answered investigators' questions. In Watergate fashion (for those of you under 30, that would be the political scandal that toppled President Richard M. Nixon in 1974), the letter wasn't so much a crime as Nguyen's alleged cover up that led to the pending federal charge: attempted obstruction of a criminal investigation.

As veteran political reporter Martin Wisckol noted this week at the OC Register's Total Buzz blog, Nguyen has lost his motion claiming that the letter sham was harmless because it only stated facts. While U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter is requiring federal prosecutors to file more specific details surrounding the charges, he rejected the defense effort to ban the government from using the fruit of searches. No surprise there.

But here's what underscores the Mayberry RFD nature of this county: Dean Steward, the onetime leading defense lawyer for sheriff-turned-convicted-felon Mike Carona, represents Nguyen. And Judge Carter is a Democrat who, in the 1980s, unsuccessfully sought the California congressional seat cherished by Nguyen and occupied by Sanchez.

Nguyen's trial in the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana is currently scheduled for May.

In the upcoming election, Sanchez is facing opposition from Republican state Assemblyman Van Tran and businessman/author Quang X. Pham, a Marine pilot during the first Iraq War and whose father was a South Vietnamese Air Force war hero.

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
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