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 Direct mailers distort California Democrat Will Rollins’ record 

Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Ken Calvert.

By Jesse Valentine - April 25, 2024
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UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 14: Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, February 14, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

A congressional district in California has been inundated with direct mailers and ads accusing Democratic candidate Will Rollins of being soft on crime. A review of these materials finds that many of the claims are distortions or flat out fabrications.

California’s 41st district is represented by Republican Ken Calvert who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1992. The district includes Riverside County and Palm Springs. 

Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, challenged Calvert in 2022 but lost by 11,000 votes. He is running again this year.

A February 2024 mailer from the California Republican Party endorsing Calvert claimed that Rollins “supports reducing sentences for convicted drug traffickers, including fentanyl dealers.” The mailer cites Rollins’ campaign website as the source of this information. The website has no such language, nor do archived versions of the site.

Rollins website lists the following as a legislative priority: “Strengthen federal, state, and local law enforcement task forces that target violent gang crime and white-collar fraud rather than nonviolent, low-level drug offenses.”

Rollins prosecuted drug traffickers as a federal prosecutor. He had a 99% conviction rate.

The same mailer claims that Rollins “gave a plea deal to a criminal who admitted to stealing U.S. military tech for China.” While technically true, this statement omits crucial context.

In 2021, Rollins prosecuted Yi-Chi Shih, a Los Angeles businessman who spearheaded a scheme to illegally export semiconductor chips to China. He was sentenced to five years in prison. As a part of the case, Rollins offered a plea deal to Kiet Anh Mai, a Vietnamese immigrant and small business owner who played a minor, low level role in Shih’s operation.

Mai’s testimony helped secure Shih’s conviction.

Another mailer claims Rollins “fought for reduced sentences for dangerous criminals, including a drug dealer who sold meth with children in the car.” This is also a distortion.

Rollins was on the team that prosecuted Juan Carlos Garcia, who pled guilty and got more than five years in prison for distributing methamphetamine. Rollins, however, was not the prosecutor who obtained the plea agreement. Furthermore, the five year sentence issued by the judge was shorter than what Rollins and the prosecutorial team recommended.

Claiming Rollins obtained plea deals and reduced sentences for drug dealers is a consistent theme across all of the mailers. This misinterprets not only Rollins’ record but also how federal prosecutions work in general.

The mailers insinuate that if a defendant receives less than the maximum sentence they are getting a reduced sentence. This is what happens in the vast majority of federal convictions.

Defendants who plead guilty often do so because the prosecutor’s case against them is so strong. Between 90% and 95% of federal criminal cases end in guilty pleas, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In addition to the mailers, Calvert’s campaign released an ad claiming that Rollins would reduce prison sentences for drug dealers. But Calvert supported legislation that did exactly that.

The bipartisan First Step Act was signed by President Donald Trump in December 2018. It sought to evaluate the recidivism risk of prisoners and provide pathways for offenders to transition out of incarceration. Many of the beneficiaries were low-level drug offenders.

Calvert was one of 182 House Republicans to back the law. 

A Calvert spokesperson did not respond to a request to comment for this article.


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