A violent feud between the wife of a former East Bay state Assemblymember and the ex-chief of staff of a current one is raising questions about the use of taxpayer funds on what appears to have been a private — albeit, salacious — dispute. In addition, the public fight between Raquel Torrico, the wife of former Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, and Trisha Tahmasbi, the now ex-chief of staff of current Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, could have political repercussions, because the Torricos are now openly backing one of Wieckowski's Democratic rivals in what promises to be a hotly contested June election for the state Senate.
The dispute between Raquel Torrico and Trisha Tahmasbi first drew attention in the capital last year when the two got into a physical altercation outside the Democratic Party state convention in Sacramento. At the time, Tahmasbi was Wieckowski's chief of staff, and her confrontation with Raquel Torrico stemmed from a romantic relationship that Tahmasbi had with Alberto Torrico. The street fight between the two women resulted in Tahmasbi suffering a bruised cheek and a black eye. Raquel Torrico said later in court documents that she and her husband subsequently became the victims of an attempted threat to make his tryst with Tahmasbi public.
After a second incident in Wieckowski's capitol office, the state Assembly officially inserted itself into the feud, siding with Tahmasbi and filing a restraining order request in Sacramento County Superior Court against Raquel Torrico. In addition, the Assembly decided to keep paying Tahmasbi her full salary despite the fact that she had gone on leave because of her run-ins with Raquel Torrico. Late last year, a judge refused to issue the restraining order, saying both sides were at fault. Wieckowski recently replaced Tahmasbi with a new chief of staff.
According to court documents, the altercation between Tahmasbi, 33, and Raquel Torrico, 46, took place on April 13, 2013 outside the Grand Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento. Inside the hotel, Wieckowski and fellow Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who represents Alameda and Oakland, were holding an event in honor of the California Nurses' Association and in connection to the Democratic Party state convention. Wieckowski represents Fremont, Newark, Milpitas, and a section of San Jose in the Assembly — the seat formerly occupied by Alberto Torrico. For many years, Wieckowski and Alberto Torrico were close allies and business partners. Before becoming Wieckowski's chief of staff, Tahmasbi worked for then-Assemblymember Torrico.
According to Tahmasbi's sworn statement in court records, Raquel Torrico came looking for her at the Sacramento Sheraton on April 13, saying, "Where is Trisha? I'm going to punch her lights out." Then, during a confrontation outside the Sheraton (at which the Torricos' children were also present), an angry Raquel Torrico, according to Tahmasbi, struck Tahmasbi repeatedly in the face. According to Tahmasbi, Raquel Torrico later bragged about the incident, and allegedly told other event attendees that she was "going to make sure Trisha loses her job and never works in politics again."
Alberto Torrico, however, offered a vastly different version of what happened that day. In his sworn statement, he said he had texted Tahmasbi before the confrontation that he and his wife were going to meet a colleague at the Sheraton, and requested that she not bother them. Tahmasbi then responded with a "series of profanity laced text messages, ordering me not to show up at Wieckowski's event," Alberto Torrico stated in court documents.
After realizing Raquel Torrico had commandeered her husband's cellphone, Tahmasbi then suggested that they meet at a nearby Starbucks. According to Alberto Torrico, once they met, Tahmasbi grabbed his wife's arm to lead her toward the cafe. "After brushing Ms. Tahmasbi off of her arm, my wife pointed her finger very close to Ms. Tahmasbi's face and said, 'No. We will talk now. Stay away from my husband. Leave my husband alone. My husband will never leave me. Look at you and look at me. No way he will ever leave me for you.'"
Alberto Torrico stated that Tahmasbi pushed his wife's arm away and into a cement sign, bruising it. Then Tahmasbi "reached her arm back, as if to strike, and my wife struck Ms. Tahmasbi," Alberto Torrico added.
According to Tahmasbi, she went on paid leave from Wieckowski's office from April 22 to September 11 because of the confrontation with Raquel Torrico. By all accounts, the feud went dormant until October.
According to Alberto Torrico's sworn statement, he said he received a phone call on October 3 from an anonymous caller who said he was calling on behalf of Tahmasbi, adding that if Alberto Torrico didn't leave her alone, "we are going to the press with emails and text messages that will embarrass your family." In her statement, Raquel Torrico said she grabbed the phone from her husband and told the caller that "I knew all about the affair and I didn't care about the messages or the media."
Four days later, Raquel Torrico traveled from her and her husband's West Sacramento home to the capitol to talk to the Assembly's sergeant of arms about the phone call. Raquel Torrico then followed up with a visit to Wieckowski's office, according to all accounts of the case. However, Tahmasbi's request for the restraining order, which includes her account and those by her co-workers of what occurred, described Raquel Torrico as being upset when she demanded Tahmasbi hand over the emails and texts about the affair. Tahmasbi said she never came out of her office because she was still frightened from the altercation earlier that year. According to Raquel Torrico's version, she sat calmly in the waiting room, reading the newspaper and nibbling on snacks offered to her by Wieckowski's staff before being asked to leave by the sergeant of arms. Raquel Torrico declined to comment for this report.
On December 16, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger denied the state Assembly's request for a restraining order against Raquel Torrico, citing evidence that both women "intentionally touched each other" during the April 13 altercation. The judge also ruled that there was no evidence that Raquel Torrico's visit to Wieckowski's office on October 7 "involved violence or a threat of violence."
The revelations about the Torrico-Tahmasbi dispute come at an inopportune time for Wieckowski, who is running for state Senate in the June primary against former Assemblymember Mary Hayashi, who has amassed $800,000 in campaign contributions despite the fact that she was convicted of shoplifting a few years ago. Also in the race are former Assemblymember Audie Bock, Republican Peter Kuo, and Roman Reed, who has ties to the Torricos. Last fall, the Torricos, who remain influential in the Fremont area, threw their support behind Reed, a Fremont planning commissioner known nationally for his work in stem cell research. Reed also is another former Wieckowski ally.
As for Tahmasbi, she again went on paid leave after Raquel Torrico's October 7 visit to Wieckowski's office, citing stress. According to payroll records from the Assembly Rules Committee, Tahmasbi took a total of 710 hours of paid leave last year. During that period, the Assembly paid her $40,930 in public funds. The additional costs to the Assembly of prosecuting her restraining order against Raquel Torrico are unclear. The Assembly deployed two attorneys to handle the case. In court papers, the Assembly's attorneys stated that the legislature had a responsibility to defend and protect Tahmasbi because of her status as a state employee. However, there are questions as to whether Tahmasbi was acting as a government worker on the day of her physical altercation with Raquel Torrico, and whether the event, held just off site from the Democratic Party state convention, was an official state function or an afternoon soiree hosted by two Assemblymembers for one of their most prized campaign contributors, the California Nurses Association. In her written complaint, Tahmasbi even stated that she was working as a volunteer at the party that day. Wieckowski's office declined to comment for this report, citing employee privacy.
It's unclear, meanwhile, whether Tahmasbi will ever return to work in Sacramento. Representatives of Wieckowski's office said last week that the assemblymember had hired a new chief of staff.