The race for Yolo County district attorney recently took a contentious turn, when incumbent DA Jeff Reisig released an ad accusing his challenger, Cynthia Rodriguez, of taking campaign contributions “connected to convicted sex offenders and child rapists seeking a soft on crime district attorney.”
Rodriguez, a Winters resident, told the Express‘ sister publication Davis Enterprise the ad’s allegations are inaccurate and amount to “dirty campaign tactics.”
Reisig identified the donors as Woodland resident Brett Pedroia, who is listed in campaign finance documents as giving Rodriguez’s campaign two donations totaling $3,500; and Sanjay Dev, the brother of former Davis resident Ajay Dev, who gave $500.
“This is a perverted assault on the integrity of the DA’s office,” Reisig said this week. “Rodriguez needs to return every dollar she took from Pedroia and Dev and apologize to the victims in those cases and every victim of child molestation and rape in Yolo County. I’m going to talk about this every day of the campaign until that happens.”
Harriet Salarno, founder and chairwoman of the advocacy organization Crime Victims United, released a statement Wednesday calling the donations’ acceptance “an affront to all victims and demonstrates a clear lack of character on Rodriguez’s part.” She, too, called for Rodriguez to return the money and apologize.
“It’s such a dirty tactic,” Rodriguez said of Reisig’s ad, ”I don’t feel it deserves much response. I believe Yolo County voters deserve a campaign focused on the issues — public safety, homelessness, mental health, drug abuse, discrimination and transparency — and I’ll continue to focus on those.”
However, Rodriguez noted that her campaign has forwarded one donor’s contribution — she declined to specify whose — to Empower Yolo, which provides services to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking and child abuse victims.
As for the claim she’s soft on crime, “that’s a strawman argument. It’s completely inaccurate,” Rodriguez said.
Pedroia, who pleaded guilty to a sex offense in his 2009 case, said the act occurred while he was in the throes of a drug addiction from which he’d since recovered. Prosecutors sought a state prison term, but Judge Paul Richardson sentenced him to a year in county jail, eight years of probation and sex-offender registration.
Reached for comment, Pedroia said his family, which collectively made the contribution, doesn’t know Rodriguez but considers her the best candidate for DA. He confirmed they have since contacted her campaign to request the funds go to a local nonprofit.
Pedroia called Reisig’s ad “hurtful” and “a very low blow” in light of his recovery and those of other former addicts.
“I’ve worked extremely hard throughout my treatment, including therapy and victim empathy. I would have thought Mr. Reisig would be proud of me, on how I turned my life around, like he shows through his reforms,” Pedroia said, adding that many of Reisig’s donors are Pedroia’s personal friends. “It’s OK for him to treat me like this, but I hope that he doesn’t have those same feelings for all those reform graduates that the community was proud to witness.”
Ajay Dev is serving a 378-year prison sentence following his 2009 conviction on charges of repeatedly raping his adopted daughter. He has maintained his innocence, saying the alleged victim manufactured the rape claims after Dev thwarted her dating relationship.
Dev appealed his conviction, asserting that trial errors denied him a fair proceeding, but the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the decision in 2017. His attorneys have since filed a writ of habeas corpus — a legal petition challenging a defendant’s conviction and/or sentencing — that’s being heard in Yolo Superior Court.
His brother Sanjay Dev said he and his family supported Reisig in his first campaign, but now back Rodriguez because Reisig “took my belief away from the justice system.”
“I think she will be fair and objective and not of the mentality (of) ‘win by any means necessary,’” Dev said. “I believe that someday someone will restore my faith in the justice system, and that could be very well Mr. Reisig, but he will have to show by example, and not with ads that try to scare and destroy someone’s character. Has anyone questioned why there would be more than 1,000 people supporting a convicted rapist unless something is wrong somewhere in the justice system?”
Rodriguez is a former county and federal public defender who also served as general counsel and deputy director of forensic services at the California Department of Mental Health.
Her platform emphasizes approaching public safety with “integrity and compassion,” saying Yolo County has experienced “ineffective” mass incarceration, overcharged cases and bias against marginalized communities under Reisig’s watch.
Reisig, who is seeking his fifth term, was a local prosecutor for 10 years before his election to district attorney in 2006. He also serves as president of the California District Attorneys Association.
He acknowledges being tough on violent criminals and sex offenders but also points to his office’s creation of restorative justice and treatment-based diversion programs as well as a race-blind charging unit among his reform efforts.
Campaign finance documents filed on Jan. 31, covering the donation period of July 1 to Dec. 31, 2021, show that Reisig received $65,950 in cash contributions, while Rodriguez collected $57,490. Donations for the 2021 calendar year totaled $62,378 for Rodriguez, who announced her candidacy last May, and $100,606 for Reisig.