A few days ago, Peter Cunningham of Education Post (and former communications director for Arne Duncan and reliable critic of public schools and unions) wrote an article defending Ref Rodriguez, the then-president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board, who has been indicted on multiple counts for money laundering and campaign finance fraud. Cunningham said that Ref was being treated harshly because of his prominence and that he had simply made “a rookie mistake.”

Steve Lopez, a regular columnist for the Los Angeles Times, refutes Cunningham’s claims in this article.

He also answers a question that bothered me about Ref’s indictment. Why is it illegal to give money to your own campaign? As Lopez explains it, it is not illegal to give money to your own campaign, but it is illegal to pretend that you received that money from other people and then repay them for pretending to give you money.

Lopez writes:

The chief of a nonprofit that advocates for charter schools — which Rodriguez has championed — argued in a Times op-ed that the charges against Rodriguez are overblown and he should stay on the board.

“If the allegations are true, Rodriguez clearly made a rookie mistake,” said the op-ed, which called Rodriguez a humble, sincere and polite political novice who should pay fines if he broke the law but not lose his job.

A rookie mistake? Here’s my take:

If you field a double off the wall in the right field corner, wildly fling the ball over the head of the cutoff man and give up an extra base, that’s a rookie mistake.

If you pull someone over on your first night as a cop, forget to put your patrol car in park and then watch it roll over your foot as you’re writing a ticket, that’s a rookie mistake.

Rodriguez is charged with taking $26,000 of his own money and redistributing it through an intermediary to 25 people, mostly friends and relatives — who donated $24,250 to his 2015 campaign for school board.

What’s that smell like to you?

A rookie mistake, or a premeditated strategy to work around campaign law?

The L.A. district attorney’s office, which has filed 25 misdemeanor charges along with the three felonies, seems to think Rodriguez pulled off a money-laundering scheme.

And here’s the most interesting thing about the case:

If Rodriguez had donated the $26,000 to himself, that would have been legal because there’s no limit on how much you can dump into your own campaign.

So this leaves the jaded among us to wonder if Rodriguez —who has admitted to nothing, and whose lawyer did not return my call — wanted it to appear as if he had support from ordinary people, rather than just the charter-advocating high-rollers who bankrolled his campaign.

If so, here are some pointers for future reference:

Tip 1: If you want to make it look as if you’re a strong enough candidate to attract donations from working people, try to find more working stiffs who aren’t relatives or employees at the charter school organization you founded.

Tip 2. Janitors and tutors do not typically donate between $775 and $1,100 to school board candidates, and when they do, it raises suspicion.

Tip 3. Never, ever, drag your own mother into a harebrained, bone-head scheme, even if your name is Soprano. There is no way to reverse that kind of bad karma.

As prosecutors lay it out, Rodriguez cashed out a business investment and wrote the $26,000 check to a female cousin, who has also been criminally charged. The cousin — an administrator at the charter school Rodriguez started — is suspected of depositing the money into a bank account under the names of Rodriguez’s parents. Prosecutors say Rodriguez’s mother then signed 16 checks for friends and family members who were listed as donors to her son’s campaign.

I know, innocent until proven guilty. But this sounds like one hell of a rookie “mistake.” And if you’re someone who frets about awkward conversation at family gatherings during the holidays, just thank the holy gobbler you’re not spending Thanksgiving with the Rodriguez clan this year.

This was a fairly sophisticated strategy on Ref’s part, and he faces a criminal indictment.

He stepped aside as board president, but did not leave the board. So many millions were spent to get him elected, and he does not want to disappoint his backers, who funded one of the dirtiest campaigns ever seen in Los Angeles (his ads mocked his highly qualified opponent, Bennett Kayser, for his age and disability). He wanted to make sure the pro-charter majority maintained its control. He knew for two years that he was under criminal investigation, but kept this to himself.

Now, investigators and journalists will look closer at Ref’s finances. Where did the $26,000 come from? It is not only “the union” that wants to know. It is anyone who cares about ethics in government.

Stepping aside and keeping his seat is wrong. He should resign from his position from the board at once.