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Top California labor official and husband accused of grand theft, embezzlement and tax evasion

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SACRAMENTO — 

The California attorney general’s office has filed felony charges against the executive director of the state’s largest labor union, alleging that an investigation into possible campaign finance violations revealed that Alma Hernández and her husband underreported their income by more than $1.4 million to evade taxes.

Hernández resigned as executive director of Service Employees International Union California State Council, ending her 11-year tenure leading the 700,000-member organization’s advocacy work at the state Capitol, where it’s considered one of the most powerful political forces in politics.

“Working people deserve leaders they can depend on to help them achieve these goals at the bargaining table and through political advocacy, but also leaders they can trust,” Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said. “When there is reason to believe trust has been broken and crimes have been committed, we have an ethical duty to investigate — we owe that to the people of California.”

An attorney for Hernández and her husband, Jose Samayoa Moscoso, disputed the charges filed in a criminal complaint this month.

“We disagree with the charges in this case, and they misrepresent the true facts reflecting their hard work to make an honest life for themselves and their family,” attorney Jeffrey Tsai said. “I cannot otherwise comment as to any legal matters related to Ms. Hernández and Mr. Samayoa [Moscoso]. But allegations in any court case are not evidence, and every person in a criminal matter is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Named one of Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 California politicos, Hernández is a seasoned political operator who helped activate an army of SEIU volunteers to fight the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom last month.

SEIU California President Bob Schoonover said the organization is deeply concerned about the allegations and will continue to fully cooperate with authorities.

“Any misuse of funds is unacceptable, and we are committed to doubling down on our efforts to ensure that all officers and staff adhere to the highest level of ethical and financial conduct,” he said.

Hernández faces two felony counts of grand theft tied to two payments of $7,200 and $4,500 from an SEIU-sponsored political action committee to Moscoso, and a charge of perjury for declaring the payments on a campaign form. The attorney general’s office alleges in court documents that the payments were made for food and drinks that Moscoso never provided at campaign events leading up to the 2014 general election.

Authorities charged Hernández and Moscoso with five counts of tax evasion for allegedly failing to report $1.4 million in income on their tax returns from 2014 through 2018, totaling $143,000 in unpaid taxes. Moscoso is also alleged to have paid the employees of his air duct cleaning business under the table and failed to file quarterly reports with the Employment Development Department and pay more than $16,000 in employment taxes, according to the attorney general’s office.

Court documents say that the state Department of Justice’s investigation began in March 2019, when the California Fair Political Practices Commission contacted the attorney general’s financial fraud and special prosecutions section.

The FPPC — which investigates and regulates campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying and governmental ethics — discovered questionable payments to Moscoso from a political action committee funded by labor unions to support Democrat Jose Solorio’s unsuccessful state Senate campaign against Republican Janet Nguyen in 2014, according to court records. As treasurer of the committee, Hernández allegedly submitted and disbursed the payments.

The attorney general’s office obtained a search warrant for the couple’s bank records and interviewed them at their Glendale home in late June 2019. Authorities allege that Moscoso “acknowledged being an air duct cleaner and not being involved in food vending services” and said he did not recognize the invoices.

The state alleges that Hernández said the payments were for feeding campaign volunteers though the volunteers interviewed said “they never observed food-vending services.”

Multiple search warrants were obtained for the couple’s personal and business bank accounts and records were audited by the Department of Justice and reviewed by agents for the Franchise Tax Board, who said they discovered alleged discrepancies between deposits and receipts and the couple’s income tax returns.

The Department of Justice executed search warrants in October 2020 at the couple’s home, his business and their tax preparer’s office, collecting U.S. Internal Revenue Service documents, tax records, invoices, checkbooks, computers, cellphones and other information, according to court records. EDD investigators also found evidence that they allege shows that Moscoso failed to file reports, pay unemployment insurance and disability insurance to the agency.

“At the end of the FTB investigation, the results revealed that Hernández and Moscoso underreported income and tax deficiency for the years of 2014 through 2018,” according to court records.

All of the charges against Hernández and Moscoso are felonies, and the Department of Justice is treating the case as an aggravated white-collar crime.

The couple could be ordered to pay more than $700,000 in restitution and fines and face potential prison time if found guilty, according to the attorney general’s office.

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