SACRAMENTO (KPIX) — A woman who tried to sound the alarm about a top California Democrat’s reputation for harassing women on Monday talked to KPIX 5 about how she was blocked from getting the truth five years ago.
Earlier this month, the first allegation against 39th District Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra surfaced. A woman who works at the state capitol said in 2009 Bocanegra — then a chief of staff — grabbed her beneath her clothes.
Now the L.A. Times reports six other women have similar stories.
The new allegations date from 2009 to 2014. They include alleged incidents where Bocanegra forcibly kissed and groped an acquaintance, touched the breasts and backside of a staffer and tried to kiss a lobbyist.
On Monday, Bocanegra announced that he would not run for re-election and planned to step down from his seat in September of next year.
Danitza Pantoja, a school psychologist in the Antelope Valley High School District and 39th District resident learned about the incidents long before from the man who Bocanegra succeeded in the State Assembly.
“Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes had told me, ‘Oh Denitza, the allegations aren’t true. Raul just needs to learn to keep his hands to himself,'” said Pantoja.
Fuentes was also Bocanegra’s boss.
“Obviously, at that point I thought, ‘Well then it seems that the allegations are true, because why would someone need to learn to keep their hands to themselves?'” asked Pantoja.
In 2012, as Fuentes was leaving the assembly, Bocanegra was running for his 39th District seat.
But Pantoja had heard rumors and was concerned.
So she and ten other women sent a letter to the assembly asking for any information about sexual harassment claims against Bocanegra.
“It was something that I wanted to know to make an informed decision, and I felt like something a constituent should be aware of so that they can make an important decision as well,” said Pantoja.
Pantoja says she got no response to the letter, but the assembly claims it did send a letter saying it couldn’t release Bocanegra’s personnel file. Either way, voters were in the dark.
About a month after sending the letter, Pantoja — who was running for city council — met with Fuentes. That was when he told her Bocanegra just needed to learn to keep his hands to himself.
But Fuentes went further for his friend.
“So he had asked me to rescind the letter and that basically they would draft a statement, you know, that I would have to sign on to basically stating that the allegations were not true,” explained Pantoja.
She didn’t rescind the letter, but she did reluctantly sign a statement drafted by Fuentes’ office that was never made public. Pantoja regrets signing it, especially now that she knows she was misled.
“Honestly, I was really disgusted. Especially because it was something as females we tried to bring forward in his first campaign,” said Pantoja. “And maybe if at that time he could’ve addressed allegations, maybe things would’ve been different.”
She says she thinks Bocanegra should resign.
“I don’t think it’s going to be effective at all,” said Pantoja. “I mean, you’ve had Assembly member Christina Garcia saying she’s not gonna work with him. So it just makes you think well, who else is going to be willing to work with him, you know? Once again, our poor Northeast San Fernando Valley suffers. We suffer.”
The California constitution allows either the senate or assembly to expel a member with a two-thirds vote. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon issued a statement Monday saying there is an investigation underway. If it affirms the allegations, the statement said Rendon “will move to immediately expel Mr. Bocanegra from the assembly.”