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Caruso Field Deputy Accused of Sexual Misconduct and Derogatory Comments Toward Women

Daniel Lopez, a leading figure in Rick Caruso’s mayoral campaign, has a long and checkered history in Democratic politics.

Rick Caruso smiles while sitting in a well-appointed office
(Source: Rick Caruso | Facebook)

Daniel Lopez, a field deputy for Rick Caruso’s mayoral campaign, has been accused of repeatedly making unwanted sexual advances and derogatory comments toward women.

Prior to joining the Caruso campaign, Lopez worked for an extensive list of Democratic candidates and politicians. A 2019 email to the Los Angeles County Young Democrats (LACYD) lists a series of sexist behaviors and calls Lopez a “liability to this organization and its members.” The email calls for the removal of Lopez as president of LACYD.

Knock LA asked the Caruso campaign if Lopez was still on its staff, how long he has been employed, and whether they were aware of the allegations against him, and did not receive a response. Bearstar Strategies, the firm working for Caruso’s campaign, denies employing Lopez.

Lopez has a long history in politics in Los Angeles, in California, and nationwide. Lopez began to lead Caruso’s campaign field efforts in August 2022, after now-disgraced City Councilman Kevin de León’s campaign lost big in the June primary election. Lopez has previously worked for City Council President Paul Krekorian, Governor Gavin Newsom, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Hillary Clinton.

He also currently sits on the Great Valley Glen Neighborhood Council.

A screenshot of the 2019 letter’s contents was first released by Twitter user CaliCre8ive, who describes herself as a “notorious Rick Caruso troll.” The screenshots redact the names of signees, and the Twitter thread discourages people from contacting any of Lopez’s victims.

In the letter, Lopez is alleged to have repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances and derogatory comments toward women. It also describes Lopez treating women “as second-class citizens.” The comments are alleged to not only have been made toward members of LACYD, but also female political candidates and elected officials.

The letter says that Lopez’s inappropriate behavior occurred at LACYD-sponsored events, and requests the LACYD Board to “hold this organization to the standards of the party it claims to represent.”

The letter is signed with 21 redacted names; the signees identify themselves as “Present and Past Women Members of the Los Angeles County Young Democrats.” The letter identifies each of them as “women who have experienced the behaviors … and those who stand in solidarity alongside them.” Lopez resigned as LACYD president shortly after the letter was sent.

Work Equity, an organization which “mobilizes a peer network to support survivors of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination,” sent several letters on behalf of Lopez’s accusers. One letter mentions that “many other women have indicated that they are afraid to come forward after being sexually harassed by Mr. Lopez.” They state that Lopez had “sufficient power within the Democratic Party to silence survivors.”

Candra Nazzaro described her experiences in a letter from Work Equity to the LA County Democratic Party (LACDP). She says she received a text from Lopez offering to meet him in a bar to get more involved in LACYD. Nazzaro wrote that Lopez seemed to “enjoy talking about the sexual exploits of elected officials,” and that Lopez bringing up the topic made her uneasy.

“Nothing we talked about could have been misconstrued as mutually romantic or intimate in any way,” she says.

Lopez also allegedly asked her several times if she wanted to see him with his shirt off, and attempted to touch her leg and upper thigh. Nazzaro’s letter to LACDP states that he’d made an offer to the woman to join the LACYD board during the conversation.

Nazzaro tells Knock LA that when she complained about Lopez to LACDP, the organization made Lopez sign a copy of LACDP’s anti-sexual-harassment policy, and told him he would have to take sexual harassment and sensitivity training if reelected. “That was it, a lot of nothing,” Nazzaro says.

She says she was disappointed in the reaction from the party, and calls it “less than a slap on the wrist.”

Letter on LACDP letterhead. March 10, 2020. Ms. Nazarro, A complaint that you filed last year against one of our members has now been reviewed by our Anti-Harassment task force and policy committee and our investigation has concluded. While Daniel's past misconduct is egregious and unbecoming, the timing of the conduct in question, prior to our body's adoption of its anti-harassment and workplace violence policy, deprives LACDP jurisdiction over this claim. However, during his remaining time as an elected delegate within our membership, our leadership has strongly encouraged him to take restorative steps despite the absence of jurisdiction. Our policy committee has either required, or recommended the following: recording of this complaint in your file; required to sign a copyof LACDP's anti-harassment policy and return the signed copy to LACDP staff; if re-elected, attend the LACDP anti-sexual harassment and sensitivity training provided to all elected membebrs during the reorganizational meeting. Additionally, this original claim has been referred to the California democratic party and the california young democrats for their own further review. Please reach out with any additional questions. Regards, Drexel Heard II, executive director
A letter from LACDP Executive Director Drexel Heard II to Candra Nazzaro.

LACDP declined to comment. LACYD was not chartered with LACDP at the time of the complaint.

Nazzaro also says that LACYD allowed Lopez to step down quietly. “He’s still able to keep propelling his career … because nobody knows he left because he was harassing women.”

Yasmine Pomeroy, a former candidate for City Council District 3, also shared screenshots on Twitter of minutes from a March 10, 2020, LACYD meeting. The screenshot mentions a code of conduct and sexual harassment complaint against Lopez. An “M. Gonzalez” [Mark Gonzalez is currently the president of LACDP] is listed as reporting on the work of an anti-harassment task force handling the complaint.

The story of how Lopez went from campaign volunteer to paid consultant runs through an extensive list of Democrats in Los Angeles. In 2015, Lopez appears to have worked extensively with LACYD as a volunteer on the campaign of former City Councilman Herb Wesson. Lopez knocked on doors with LACYD for now-retired Councilmember Nury Martinez and now-indicted former Councilmember José Huizar.

An LA Weekly piece from 2016 describes Lopez, then political director of the Kamala Harris for Senate campaign, as “wrangling endorsements up and down the state.” It states that he was in charge of winning her endorsement at the Democratic National Convention in February of 2016. Since then, he’s posted pictures of himself at many events that feature now Vice President Harris as a speaker.

The Caruso campaign’s hiring choices have previously landed the candidate in hot water. In September, several anti-vaccine agitators previously filmed committing violence livestreamed themselves bragging about making $30 an hour as door knockers for Caruso’s campaign. Shortly afterwards, Caruso campaign spokesperson Peter Ragone claimed that the agitators were let go and that “we obviously reject their views.”

It’s unclear how much the Caruso campaign knew about the accusations against Lopez, but in the past, Caruso has been criticized for an unwillingness to step up for victims of sexual abuse. 

As chair of USC’s trustees, Rick Caruso was accused of overlooking sexual violence at the university. The Trojan Democrats, a chapter of the College Democrats of America, wrote a letter urging “deep concern” with Caruso entering the race for Mayor. The letter mentions it took USC nearly a month to suspend Sigma Nu after multiple students accused the fraternity of hosting a party with multiple incidents of drugging and sexual assault.

LACYDP and Daniel Lopez did not respond to requests from Knock LA for comment on this developing story.