Kelvin Barrios is running to represent District 9 on the San Diego City Council. / Photo courtesy of the Kelvin Barrios campaign

Kelvin Barrios, a City Council candidate and the subject of a criminal investigation by the San Diego district attorney’s office, failed to disclose at least $10,000 worth of income while he worked at City Hall.

As a staffer in Council President Georgette Gómez’s office working on constituent services, Barrios was subject to the city’s conflict of interest code. Before Barrios started working for Gómez in late 2016, he got paid to work on multiple campaigns. Yet he revealed none of those payments on his statement of economic interest, as required by state law.

Three days after VOSD asked Barrios about the omissions, his campaign said he would be voluntarily correcting the record.

“Kelvin is amending his form 700 today because there are a couple items he inadvertently overlooked when filling out the form,” wrote Tony Manolatos, a spokesman, in an email Monday, referring to the form on which such disclosures are submitted.

The San Diego Ethics Commission doesn’t look kindly on officials who fail to reveal sources of income that might affect their judgment.

“The rules are there to make sure the public knows what interests someone brings to their work on behalf of the public,” said Gil Cabrera, the former commission chair. “So we always want to know as much as possible.”

Omissions on statements of economic interest are eligible for fines of $500 per violation, but Barrios’ decision to self-correct the mistake before the commission caught it may mean he pays nothing at all.

Cabrera, an election lawyer who’s not representing Gómez, Barrios or his opponent Sean Elo, also noted that the Ethics Commission tends to go lighter on people who violate disclosure rules when the omitted information is available elsewhere. In this case, the various campaigns revealed that they paid Barrios in separate city or county documents.

In other words, it works to Barrios’ advantage that the information he left off one form can be found on other forms, even though someone else filed them.

“The income he wasn’t disclosing wasn’t hidden,” Cabrera said. “It was available to the public somewhere else.”

In 2016, Gómez paid Barrios about $10,000 for work related to her campaign for District 9. He also got paid to work on two school board races for LaShae Collins in San Diego and Michael D. Jackson in Chula Vista.

Barrios is also listed in a public records database as an owner of R&K Consulting, a company that at one point shared a home address with Barrios in City Heights. Between 2015 and 2016, Gómez’s campaign paid the firm about $45,000.

Josie Caballero, a Democratic activist, also confirmed that when she ran for the District 7 City Council seat that same election cycle, Barrios worked for her campaign — but she wrote out the checks to R&K Consulting, not Barrios directly.

“I don’t know how they divided up the payments. All I know is that I paid,” she said.

Barrios did not list R&K Consulting as a source of income in any of his required disclosures. In 2016, though, another former Gómez staffer — Roberto Torres — listed R&K Consulting as a source of income on his form 700, and described the firm as a “sole proprietorship,” with earnings between $10,000 and $100,000 in 2015 and 2016.

Torres’ paperwork suggests that he is the primary owner, not Barrios, which conflicts with other public records. He did not respond to a request for comment.

VOSD also asked Barrios whether he had any financial stake in the company and why he did not list it on his economic disclosure form. He did not respond to those questions.

If indeed Barrios earned a percentage of the company’s profits, or continues to, and did not disclose it when he worked for Gómez, he could be open to additional punishment.

Collectively, the money might not be significant. But the form 700 omissions are only the latest example of Barrios playing loose with rules intended to keep political operatives honest. Last year, he agreed to pay the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state watchdog, more than $4,000 in fines for illegally spending political funds on himself and for failing to keep adequate campaign finance records.

After the 2016 election, Barrios wrote himself four checks totaling $2,083 from the Jackson campaign account. He also made cash withdrawals or used a debit card at restaurants, stamps and clothing at Men’s Warehouse totaling $3,140.

Around that time, Barrios was also serving as treasurer for the California Young Democrats Latino Caucus, where between January 2016 and June 2017 he cut himself nine checks totaling $1,775. He again made cash withdrawals or debit card purchases on food and other expenses that totaled $2,573.

Barrios cooperated with the FPPC’s investigation, even reimbursing the Jackson campaign committee $2,000 and the caucus $1,500 in December 2016. Yet he continued to use school board committee funds for his personal benefit and couldn’t produce invoices or receipts after arguing that the money was owed to him for his professional services.

Thad Kousser, the chair of UCSD’s Department of Political Science, said there are bright lines in campaign finance laws because the money is merely a means to an end — an election — and not vehicles for personal enrichment.

“These are hugely serious charges, both from a moral perspective, but also politically damaging,” he said. “This is essentially what Duncan Hunter has done, on a smaller scale.”

The allegations against Barrios don’t end there.

In December 2019, Elo announced that he’d filed a new complaint with the FPPC. He turned over bank statements he said showed that Barrios, while also serving as treasurer of the San Diego County Young Democrats club, had spent political funds on himself.

Elo and others were elected to the club’s board in April 2017 and after opening the books found dozens of unauthorized bank transfers or expenses — including $77 at a San Diego Target, $10 at Soapy Joe’s Car Wash in La Mesa and $100 at a Chinese restaurant in San Jose — totaling more than $3,600.

In early 2020, the FPPC told Elo in a letter that the allegation was outside its purview because Barrios had been a volunteer member of the club and wasn’t required to make certain disclosures. The allegation was then kicked to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, which opened an investigation.

Barrios apologized last week, claiming to have reimbursed the club for the money he took, and wrote in a subsequent statement: “I have nothing to hide. I should have been more diligent in my roles.”

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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