By Kevin Kenney
Signal Staff Writer
The race between Republican Dante Acosta and Democrat Christy Smith for the 38th Assembly District seat turned suddenly nasty on Tuesday – very suddenly.
In a candidates forum sponsored by the Valley Industry Association that ran for about an hour, civil disagreement reigned for about the first 59 minutes and 30 seconds before Smith, in her closing statement, delivered a stinging attack on Acosta, hinting he has inflated his success as a financial adviser.
Acosta has stressed his experience and success in the private sector as one of the key reasons he should be sent to Sacramento to fill the seat being vacated by fellow Republican Scott Wilk.
Smith’s attack took direct aim at that assertion.
“Mr. Acosta’s business success is not everything it’s made out to be,” Smith said – before urging those in the audience at the Valencia Country Club to click on the broker-check page of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) website, for details about Acosta that she did not specify in this public forum.
Audience members were left to either web surf or wonder, as Smith’s comments came after Acosta’s closing statements, and ended the afternoon’s exchanges.
Acosta, approached by The Signal afterward, called Smith’s closing comments “a cheap shot,” and said she had “misrepresented my record.”
Smith, later asked by The Signal whether it had been fair to launch the attack in the closing moments of the program, said: “That occurred to me, that it was in my closing remarks and he would not have a chance to respond – but he will now. He’ll have a chance to explain to voters his record.”
That record — a look at the FINRA webpage — contains three “disclosure events” on Acosta, concerning client complaints, one each in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Disclosures can be defined as any customer complaint or arbitration, regulatory action, employment termination, bankruptcy filing and any civil or criminal proceeding that the broker was a part of, according FINRA.
Two of the FINRA investigations were “denied,” according to the website. The third one, in 2004, was settled with Wells Fargo, with the customer seeking some $82,000 in damages and settling for $35,000.
Acosta, in an interview with The Signal, explained that he had brokered a man’s IRA in 1997 while working for Wells Fargo, that the man divorced in 2001 and that the man’s ex-wife got 50 percent of the account. The man’s ex-wife, Acosta said, filed a complaint in 2004 on the account’s handling — after the account had changed brokerages two times, and after Acosta had left Wells Fargo.
But because he was the original broker, Acosta said, his name was on the complaint.
“I have never been fined or sanctioned,’’ Acosta told The Signal. “These are routine issues. Businesses deal with routine and frivolous claims all the time.”
He also said Wells Fargo determined the case was “cheaper to settle’’ than to involve lawyers and possible prolonged litigation. He added he was hired by other firms after leaving Wells Fargo, and that his subsequent employers “looked at this and shrugged.”
Acosta said Smith attacking him on this issue, “illustrates the fact she doesn’t have any private-sector experience – this is so routine, it borders on the mundane. It’s a desperate attempt by a candidate who doesn’t have a record to stand on.’’
In her interview with the Signal, Smith also said Acosta’s job movement – 10 financial firms between 1992 and 2015 – suggested a “lackluster career in the financial industry as indicated by the number of firms he’s been employed by.”
She said his FINRA report, while not disqualifying him to sit in the Assembly, “disqualifies him from claiming to be a successful businessman.”
Acosta defended his record to The Signal, saying he’s been responsible for more than 1,000 accounts and $100 million in investments since 1992.
Before the late-game fireworks at Tuesday’s forum, Acosta and Smith exchanged their differing opinions on an array of issues, though little new ground was broken on what each has said before.
Prominently, Acosta said he favors capital punishment but opposes “ad infinitum appeals,” while Smith said she was “morally opposed to the death penalty.”
On Proposition 64, which would legalize marijuana, Acosta called it “a no-brainer – I am totally opposed to it. We don’t need to add another societal problem.”
Smith’s stance on legalizing pot was, “I have significant concerns about legalization at this time. I paused on this issue.”
Acosta said he opposes Prop 55, which maintains tax rates on the wealthiest Californians to fund education. He reiterated his stance that such taxes only grow the state’s reputation as unfriendly to business, and that the state should instead “prioritize” to keep schools properly funded.
Smith, meanwhile, said rejection of Prop 55 would have a “significant impact” on Santa Clarita, leading to cuts to school funding. “Yes, it’s a tax, but it benefits children state-wide,” she said.