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Did City Attorney Advise Councilman to ‘Lie’ About Reasons Why He Gave Tickets to Campaign Backers?

Robert Fabela, City Attorney for the City of Anaheim, speaking at a meeting of the Anaheim City Council earlier this year.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

In a highly unusual chain of emails obtained from the City of Anaheim last year through the public records act, City Attorney Robert Fabela appears to have advised Councilman Avelino Valencia III to “lie” to The Anaheim Investigator about the underlying reasons why he handed out several thousand dollars worth of city-owned Angels baseball tickets to his campaign backers–something of which the city attorney has emphatically denied.

The emails in question, which were also shared with City Clerk Theresa Bass and Chief Communications Officer Mike Lyster, offers a rare glimpse into a system that holds nobody accountable for misusing any of the hundreds of tickets the city gets each year from Angel Stadium and Honda Center, allowing politicians like Valencia to give them away like candy to big donors, personal friends, and union bosses who helped get him elected.

Councilman Avelino Valencia.

It was remarks Valencia made at the June 8, 2021 meeting of the Anaheim City Council which set into motion the email exchange which led Fabela to offer advice. During public comments, a resident who read one of our articles blasted him for distributing tickets to “well-connected friends and political backers.” In response, the councilman said he, like others, just gave them to “public members who were doing good work for the community.”

In an attempt to learn more about the “good work” these people did, The Investigator sent Valencia an email on June 17th which listed the names of 22 individuals that public records showed were the recipients of his ticket largess between the months of April and May. “In the interest of full public disclosure, [we’re] requesting information as to the type of ‘volunteer public service’ each of the above persons are engaged in,” we wrote.

Of course, Valencia never replied. And that was not entirely unexpected. The Investigator already knew he gave 28 city-owned Angels baseball tickets worth $5,740 to 13 campaign backers who spent $38,938 on his bid for city council–about 60% of all tickets he handed out during those months. The councilman would have had a difficult time explaining to us what kind of “good work” these people did besides helping him win an election.

It wasn’t until in mid-July The Investigator learned Valencia was concerned about our inquiry into the reasons why he gave out tickets. A chain of emails obtained through the public records act showed that shortly after receiving our June 17th message, the councilman forwarded it to Fabela and Bass, asking them for help. “Please see the below email I received,” he said. “I would appreciate your advise [sic] and direction regarding the request.”

Within a half hour, Fabela issued a reply. The city attorney told Valencia he had “no obligation to respond” to The Investigator because it was “an ask for a verbal response.” Furthermore, he stated “policy” allows the councilman to “provide tickets not only for past service, but also to ‘attract’ service.” And finally, Fabela said if he does choose to respond, that this is “more of a public relations issue,” urging him to contact Lyster “to help him with … strategy.”

Forty minutes later, Bass followed up with an email backing one of Fabela’s points. “For reference, I am attaching a copy of our Ticket Policy — Section 5.0 states the conditions by which tickets may be distributed,” the city clerk told Valencia. “As noted by Rob, the policy allows for ‘attracting or rewarding volunteer public service’ which was noted on your Form 802, meeting the requirements of the policy and FPPC Form 802.”

Fabela’s email to Valencia.

The chain of emails The Investigator discovered–especially the one sent out by Fabela–offers us a behind-the-scenes look into why the ticket system has been constantly plagued with cronyism and corruption. Though part of problem lies with bad policies that have allowed council members to hijack it for political purposes, evidence we have unearthed seems to hint an overly compliant city bureaucracy might also be enabling this unethical behavior.

That Valencia sought advice from Fabela on how to respond to The Investigator’s email is in itself amusing. After all, the councilman had already gone on record at the June 8th meeting as saying he just gave tickets to “public members who were doing good work for the community.” Since all we requested was that he provide us with information as to the type of “good work” they did, why was there a need to consult the city attorney?

But it is what Fabela instructed him to do that is of great significance. Besides the fact he told Valencia that he could ignore The Investigator–and thus stonewall our inquiry–it appears he advised him to “lie” about the reason why he handed out those tickets, reminding the councilman that “policy” also allows him to “provide tickets … to ‘attract’ service”–a flimsy pretext which doesn’t require recipients to do any “volunteer public service.”

To better understand the context of Fabela’s advice, it was given after the councilman had already handed out tickets to 22 individuals–most of them campaign backers–between the months of April and May. And by reminding Valencia that “policy” also allows him to “provide tickets … to ‘attract’ service,” the city attorney hinted a different pretext could be used to justify what he did, thus “lie” about his reasons for distributing them.

What is most revealing about Fabela’s email is he never advised Valencia to truthfully answer The Investigator’s questions. Given that taxpayers own these tickets, one would think the city attorney would zealously guard their interests. Not so. Everything he wrote, whether intentional or not, encouraged the councilman to be deceptive. Even his suggestion Lyster be contacted to formulate a response hinted it be a spun narrative.

The email that Bass sent out, however, was more straightforward. The city clerk was correct when she told Valencia “policy allows for ‘attracting or rewarding volunteer public service’ which was noted on your Form 802, meeting the requirements of the policy and FPPC Form 802.” There is nothing on ticket disclosure forms which require council members to explain why they gave them away. But they do have to identify a “public purpose.”

A Form 802 that Valencia filed in April 2021.

It is not a strange coincidence that on every Form 802 Valencia filed for each big donor, personal friend, and union boss that he gave city-owned Angels baseball tickets to, he listed “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service” as the “public purpose.” That’s because this “public purpose,” as it is currently written, contains a major loophole which enables council members to hand out tickets to anybody on a flimsy pretext.

This loophole was first noticed by Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly. While reviewing more than 1,539 ticket disclosure forms in 2019, he discovered a common pattern among council members who were abusing the system for their own selfish motives: they noted on each Form 802 they filed that they gave away tickets for the “public purpose” of “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.”

Upon further scrutiny, San Roman learned this “public purpose” allowed council members to disburse tickets for two entirely different reasons: they can give them to “reward” people for “volunteer public service” they have done; or give them to “attract” people to do “volunteer public service” in the future. Since council members aren’t obligated to explain why they gave them away, nobody ever knows which of these two they chose.

The ambiguous nature of this “public purpose” has created a loophole which council members have been all too eager to exploit: if tickets can be given away to “attract” people to do “volunteer public service” in the future, then the recipient doesn’t have to do anything to earn them. Over the years, this flimsy pretext has paved the way for doling them out to practically anybody–big donors, lobbyists, political operatives–you name it.

OC Weekly cover story on August 9, 2019.

For matter of record, The Investigator did reach out to Fabela seeking his comment for this article. We asked the city attorney point blank if in the advice he gave to Valencia that he was “encouraging him to be deceptive—if not ‘lie’ to us—should he have chosen to respond” to our inquiry requesting he provide “additional information about his reasons for handing out tickets to 22 people during the months of April and May 2021”

“The answer to your question is ‘no’ as your inquiry is based on a misreading of both the email and the City ticket policy,” said Fabela. “The question to the Council member incorrectly assumed that past public service is the only criteria allowed under the City’s ticket policy, and my email to the Council member corrects that and reflects what City policy actually states. I do not see how that could be interpreted as encouraging anyone to ‘lie.'”

Regardless of what the city attorney’s intent was, it’s quite evident that Valencia felt empowered by what he said to continue distributing tickets to campaign backers without fear of any repercussions. Though the councilman has been handing more of them out to local residents and non-profit groups, he still doles tickets to cronies who not only have helped get him elected to public office in the past, but will probably do so in the future.

For example, five months after the councilman got advice from Fabela, he gave a pair of city-owned Los Tigres Del Norte concert tickets at the Honda Center to Gloria Alvarado, who is executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation and a vice-chair in the Orange County Democratic Party. So what “public purpose” did Valencia say this was for on his Form 802? You guessed it: “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.”

Below is the chain of emails set into motion by The Investigator’s inquiry into the recipients of Councilman Avelino Valencia’s tickets on June 17, 2021.

Campaign Backers Who Spent $39K to Elect Councilman Avelino Got City-Owned Tickets Worth $5,740

Councilman Avelino Valencia III gave city-owned Angels tickets to the wife of the president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

A careful review of all the Form 802s that Councilman Avelino Valencia III filed in April and May reveals he gave 28 city-owned Angels baseball tickets worth $5,740 to 13 campaign backers who spent $38,938 to help him get elected to his seat. That number reflects 60% of all the tickets the councilman has handed out during those months especially if one takes into consideration the fact a Long Beach supporter got tickets twice.

Furthermore, it appears Valencia has borrowed a trick other council members have used to conceal the identity of the intended recipient of tickets by giving them to their spouse instead. This questionable practice was first noticed by Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, when he discovered Carrie Nocella, a lobbyist for the Walt Disney Company, was getting tickets through her husband.

For example, a Form 802 the councilman filed last month states he gave Serina Serrano two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Dodgers game on May 8th. Besides the fact Serina works for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, her husband is Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. Public records show Gerry and his union made $2,850 in campaign contributions to Valencia in 2020.

Many recipients of free tickets earn six-figure incomes.

In the article The Anaheim Investigator published on June 1st, we reported about the Form 802s Valencia filed in April, pointing out that of the ten people he gave tickets to that month, eight were close friends and campaign backers of his. Five had close ties to unions that each made a $2,100 contribution to his city council campaign last year. Two were top Democratic Party operatives. And most don’t live in Anaheim.

The councilman’s filings for May show a similar pattern of behavior. Out of the 13 people he gave tickets to, ten were also friends and backers. Nine of them–or 70% of all the persons who received tickets that month–either contributed money directly to his city council campaign, or have close ties to unions that did. One is linked to a committee that spent $24,288.20 on his election. And again, most aren’t residents of this city.

Below is a list of those ten individuals:

BERENICE BALLINAS

Valencia gave Ballinas two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rays game on May 4th.

Ballinas is a resident of Santa Anaa member of that city’s Personnel Board, and Senior District Representative for Democratic State Senator Josh Newman.

SERAFIN TINAJERO-JAUREZ

Valencia gave Tinajero-Jaurez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rays game on May 5th.

Tinajero-Jaurez is a resident of Anaheim and is employed as a senior analyst for a healthcare company.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that he made a $250 contribution on May 23, 2020.

VALERIE AMEZCUA

Valencia gave Amezcua two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Dodgers game on May 7th.

Amezcua is a resident of Santa Ana and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Santa Ana Unified School District.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report she had contributed $200 to his campaign by August 21, 2020.

SERINA SERRANO

Valencia gave Serrano two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Dodgers game on May 8th.

Serrano is a resident of Garden Grove, an employee of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and is married to Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee (ID# 1255606) made a $2,100 contribution on August 21, 2020.

Her husband Gerry made a $750 contribution on September 22, 2020.

PAUL R. MORENO

Valencia gave Moreno two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 17th.

Moreno is a resident of Mission Viejo and a Business Agent for the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Local 433.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the District Council of Iron Workers Political Action League (ID# 831693) made a $1,000 contribution on June 22, 2020.

ALEX RUIZ

Valencia gave Ruiz two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 19th.

Ruiz is a resident of Anaheim and owns Alex’s Flooring Company.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that Ruiz made a $200 contribution on May 19, 2020.

JOSHUA LAFARGA

Valencia gave LaFarga two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Twins game on May 20th.

This is the second time Valencia has given him tickets.

LaFarga is a resident of Long Beacha member of that city’s Planning Commission, and Recording Secretary for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309 PAC (ID# 851621) made a $2,100 contribution on June 30, 2020.

BRENT BEASLEY

Valencia gave Beasley two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 21st.

Beasley is a resident of Rancho Santa Margarita and Financial Secretary for the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Local 220.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Political Education and Legislative Fund (ID# 850568) made a $500 contribution on June 26, 2020.

JAMES RAMIREZ

Valencia gave Ramirez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Athletics game on May 22nd.

Ramirez is a resident of Anaheim and Vice-President of Anaheim Firefighters Association Local 2899.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that Firefighters for Anaheim made a $2,100 contribution on September 14, 2020.

A Form 496 Independent Expenditure Report filed by Firefighters for Anaheim on October 15, 2020 reported that they spent $22,188.20 for mailers, signs, banners, and other items on Valencia’s behalf.

IZEAH GARCIA

Valencia gave Garcia two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rangers game on May 25th.

Garcia is a resident of Fullerton, a former Deputy Director of the Democratic National Committee, and Political & Community Organizer for the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the National Union of Healthcare Workers Candidate Committee (ID# 1318200) made a $1,000 contribution on September 29, 2021.

Between April and May, Valencia gave 28 city-owned Angels baseball tickets worth $5,740 to 13 campaign backers who spent $38,938 on his election–a whopping 60% of all tickets he handed out during those months. We determined this by gathering names from all the Form 802s that he filed, running them through various databases to identify who they were, and cross-referencing them with available campaign finance data.

On June 17th, The Investigator sent out an email to Valencia with a list of names of the 22 people who received tickets from him requesting more information about the type of “volunteer public service” each of them engaged in. “The rationale you gave in all of these cases is that tickets were given ostensibly for the purpose of ‘attracting or rewarding volunteer public service,'” we wrote. But he never responded to our inquiry.

For matter of record, Valencia isn’t the only council member who has hijacked the city’s ticket system for selfish political purposes. His abuses are roughly comparable to those of Councilman Jordan Brandman, whose Form 802 filings this year are also highly questionable. Though Brandman has handed out less tickets than Valencia, both have given them to some of the same people–a matter we’ll report about in the future.

Councilman Valencia Gave City-Owned Tickets Worth $3,280 to Campaign Backers, Top Democrats

Councilman Avelino Valencia III gave $3,280 worth of city-owned Angels tickets to close friends, campaign backers, and top Democrats in April.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

Before Councilman Avelino Valencia III was elected to his seat, he told a reporter from Anaheim Exclusivo what his main priority would be. “I would like the residents of Anaheim to know that I am dedicating the next four years of my life to improving the quality of life for our residents,” he said. “I will be selfless in those endeavors; I will put the residents’ needs first.”

But there is an old adage about politicians: watch what they do, not what they say. And evidence is mounting that there is a big difference between Valencia’s behavior as a councilman and his rhetoric as a candidate. Thanks to Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, we know as a fact that this happens to be the case.

In an article San Roman recently posted on his Slingshot blog, he observed that with the reopening of Angel Stadium and Honda Center due to relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, a once “dormant political patronage system” has sprung back to life “with Anaheim city council members able to dole out free tickets to their well-connected friends and political backers again.”

San Roman should know. In 2019, he looked at more than 1,539 ticket disclosure formsForm 802s as they are called–to see who received the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tickets the city gets each year from these venues through various agreements. His award-winning investigation exposed a system rife with cronyism and corruption.

In reviewing the latest filings for April, he discovered not much had changed. For example, Councilman Jordan Brandman, who is a notorious peddler of city-owned tickets to lobbyists, campaign contributors, and even his former employer, gave two Angels tickets worth $410 to a businessman who appears to have been one of his clients at a previous job.

Even Valencia has gotten tickets.

The most astonishing revelations, however, came from Valencia’s filings. Being a newcomer, one thinks he would have been a bit more circumspect in his actions. But San Roman reported that his Form 802s showed the councilman freely gave away tickets to close friends, trade union leaders who helped finance his campaign, and known Democratic Party operatives.

In response, The Anaheim Investigator launched its own investigation into this matter and carefully scrutinized all of the Form 802s Valencia filed in the month of April. The documents not only corroborate the initial claims San Roman made in his piece, but new information has been uncovered which reveals that what he reported was just the tip of the iceberg.

The Form 802s show Valencia gave tickets to ten people, eight of which could be positively identified. Of those eight, all are “well-connected friends and political backers” of the councilman. Five have close ties to unions that each made a $2,100 contribution to his city council campaign last year. Two are top Democratic Party operatives. And most don’t live in Anaheim.

Below is a list of persons of who benefited from his largess:

ERNESTO MEDRANO

Valencia gave Medrano two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 1st.

Medrano is a resident of Anaheim, a member of the Public Utilities Board, and a Business Representative for the Los Angeles / Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Los Angeles / Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council PAC (ID# 822029) made a $2,100 contribution on August 19, 2020.

ROBERT RUIZ

Valencia gave Ruiz two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 2nd.

Ruiz is a resident of Irvine, a member of the Orange County Fair and Event Center Board, and Secretary-Treasurer for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 652.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Laborers International Union of North America Laborers Local 652 (ID# 72-151970) made a $2,100 contribution on June 29, 2020.

ERNESTO AMADO CONDE

Valencia gave Conde two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 3rd.

Conde is a resident of Santa Ana, a retired sergeant with the Santa Ana Police Department, and is Director of Communications for the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. In 2018, the Voice of OC reported he has a cozy relationship with Gerry Serrano, the president of that association.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee (ID# 1255606) made a $2,100 contribution on August 21, 2020.

Serrano made a $750 contribution on September 22, 2020.

LUISANDRES PEREZ

Valencia gave Perez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 4th.

Perez is a resident of Anaheim, a member of the Planning Commission, and Political Director for UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 582. Not only was he previously employed as Political Director of the Orange County Democratic Party, but he currently serves on their Central Committee and is an alternate for State Assemblyman Tom Daly.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the UA Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union No. 582 PAC (ID# 890440) made a $2,100 contribution on July 31, 2020.

Perez made a $250 contribution on May 22, 2020.

LUIS ALEMAN

Valencia gave Aleman two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. White Sox game on April 5th.

Aleman is a resident of Santa Ana, Secretary of the Orange County Democratic Party, and President of the Latinx Young Democrats of Orange County.

JOSHUA LAFARGA

Valencia gave LaFarga two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Astros game on April 6th.

LaFarga is a resident of Long Beach, a member of that city’s Planning Commission, and Recording Secretary for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309.

Form 460s filed by the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee report that the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1309 PAC (ID# 851621) made a $2,100 contribution on June 30, 2020.

AJAY MOHAN

Valencia gave Mohan two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Twins game on April 16th.

Mohan is a resident of Irvine, a member of that city’s Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee, and Executive Director of the Orange County Democratic Party. He was previously employed as their Political Director.

JOHNATHAN HERNANDEZ

Valencia gave Hernandez two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Rangers game on April 19th.

Hernandez is a resident of Santa Ana and a member of the Santa Ana City Council.

Total value of tickets given: $3,280.

On all of the Form 802s that Valenica filed, he stated he gave away tickets for the purpose of “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.” Maybe so. Perhaps he wanted to encourage charity work in Irvine, Santa Ana, and Long Beach. And it could be a coincidence half of the recipients of his tickets apparently helped steer large amounts of cash into his city council campaign.

But the evidence speaks for itself. The Form 802s make a mockery of Valencia‘s promise to “put the residents’ needs first.” That he decided to shower close friends, trade union leaders who helped finance his campaign, and top Democratic Party operatives–most of whom don’t live in Anaheim–with $3,280 worth of tickets demonstrate that his priorities lie elsewhere.

Indeed, The Investigator believes he is only using his seat on the Anaheim City Council as a stepping stone to get elected to the state legislature in the 69th State Assembly District. After all, Tom Daly, his boss, is termed out in 2024. But to do that, he’ll need to build a base of support not only in Anaheim, but in Santa Ana. That’s where giving away free tickets comes in handy.

For matter of record, Valencia isn’t the only politician in this town who has taken advantage of the ticket system and exploited it for selfish political purposes. Sometime in the future, The Investigator plans to publish more in-depth articles like this one exposing how past and present council members, both Democrat and Republican alike, have done similar things.

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