Archive for the category “California Secretary of State”

California State Treasurer Backed Two New Laws to Help Santa Ana Police Union President Increase His Pension

Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, with Fiona Ma, California State Treasurer, at police union headquarters in 2019.

Editor & Publisher

Internal emails The Anaheim Investigator obtained from the California State Treasurer’s Office show that Fiona Ma, the state treasurer, tried to help Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, increase his pension, by backing two new laws that would exempt him from rules which prohibit the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) from giving him service credit for “special compensation” earned while on a leave of absence from his duties as a police sergeant.

Though an attempt to add them to a bill going through the state senate failed, the emails suggest Ma, her executive staff, and employees of CalPERS not only drafted these new laws for Serrano’s benefit, but that they even shared the proposed text with him. Furthermore, while all of this was occurring, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee funneled $15,900 into the state treasurer’s bid to get re-elected, making them one of her biggest campaign contributors.

The Voice of OC was the first news outlet to break the story about Serrano’s aggressive efforts to “boost” his pension. In an article published last August, they made public letters, including one written by Sonia R. Carvalho, the Santa Ana City Attorney, who summed up the police union president’s goal: “During conversations between Mr. Serrano and the City’s special legal counsel, we understand that Mr. Serrano has expectations for an increase in his pension by up to $60,000 per year,” she said.

But at that time, journalists were preoccupied about what Serrano was doing at the local level. Nobody knew he had been in direct contact with Ma, who was pulling strings for him in Sacramento. The relationship between the two grew so friendly that the state treasurer actually listed him as a contact for a fundraiser she hosted for Tina Arias Miller, a Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee, who is also the girlfriend of Ernesto Amado Conde, one of Serrano’s most trusted associates.

Ma listed Serrano as a contact for this fundraiser.

Emails reviewed by The Investigator show Serrano first began communicating with Ma on September 17, 2020. “My apologies for reaching out,” he wrote, “but I’m in dire need of some assistance resolving a minor issue with a CalPERS audit in regards to specifically my pensionable compensation.” For the most part, the state treasurer remained courteous but faintly aloof, asking Marcie Frost, Chief Executive Officer of CalPERS, and members of her executive staff, to look into this matter for her.

From September to October, a flurry of messages were exchanged between Serrano, Ma, her executive staff, and CalPERS employees, all focused on resolving his problem. But the issue here, as one auditor wrote, is when Serrano became police union president, his pay was lowered. The City of Santa Ana gave him “special compensation” to make up for it. However, since he was the only one getting this type of pay, and was on a leave of absence from the city, these earnings weren’t “pensionable” per CalPERS rules.

By mid-October, it appears that once Serrano began to realize he was at an impasse with CalPERS and wouldn’t be getting what he wanted, his emails to the State Treasurer’s Office suddenly came to an abrupt halt. All discussions about his pension ceased. There are no public records indicating that Ma nor any members of her executive staff had any further communications with him about this matter in 2020. But five months later, there was a new development. And here is where the real story begins.

Ma with Serrano at an event in Santa Ana in 2021.

On Wednesday, March 10, 2021, Serrano sent an email to Rita Clark, an administrative assistant at the State Treasurer’s Office, telling her that he would be in Sacramento the following Monday and wanted to meet with Ma and Irwin Nowick, her senior advisor. A copy of a calendar notification obtained by the The Investigator shows all three of them gathered in a large conference room at her office at 3 p.m. on Monday, March 15th. The meeting lasted thirty minutes. There are no records about what was said.

But an email sent out three days later may offer a clue. On Thursday, March 18th, Anthony Suine, Deputy Executive Officer for Customer Services & Support at CalPERS, sent a message entitled “POA President Compensation” to Frost, the CEO, which contained a draft for two new laws which would enable a police union president to bypass rules which prevented Serrano from increasing his pension. Suine, it should be noted, was no stranger to Serrano: emails show he had communicated with him in October 2020.

Two email chains show Suine’s message was not only forwarded to Ma and her executive staff for review, but to Ryan Sherman, a lobbyist for the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, which represents 3,500 law enforcement personnel in Southern California. Nowick would later send it to Serrano on Thursday, June 10th, who became ecstatic after reading it. “Thank you my friend! You are absolutely, and without a doubt, the best!” he typed. Two minutes after Nowick received Serrano’s response, he shared it with Ma.

Nowick sharing Serrano’s response with Ma.

Then on Tuesday, June 15th, Nowick sent yet another email to Serrano. But he wasn’t the only the intended recipient. It was also sent out to Sherman and Cesar Diaz. Public records show Diaz is a consultant that works for State Senator Toni Atkins, who represents the 39th District in San Diego County. Besides the fact Atkins has been a longtime ally of Ma, she is currently President pro Tempore of the California State Senate, one of the most powerful politicians in the state legislature.

The email Nowick sent was blank, but entitled “language,” and had a file attached to it called “Levyaa Cortese.docx.” Not only did this document contain a copy of the text for the two new laws that Suine wrote in his March 18th message, but it was essentially a proposal to add them as an amendment to SB 411, a bill authored by State Senator Dave Cortese, which would make adjustments to CalPERS rules dealing with retired annuitants. “Can you point me to the amends?” Diaz asked Nowick in one message.

Another email chain shows that on Friday, June 18th, Nowick also forwarded this document to Randy Perry, a legislative advocate for Aaron Read & Associates, one of Sacramento’s most powerful lobbying firms. Nobody should be surprised he received it. Perry’s biography shows one his clients is the Peace Officers Research Association of California, which “represents over 76,000 public safety members and over 930 associations, making it the largest law enforcement organization in California.”

Atkins and Ma in 2019.

Roughly two months after Serrano asked Ma for help, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee started pumping cash into her re-election bid. According to a Form 460 filed with the City of Santa Ana, they reported making a $7,800 contribution on December 1, 2020. Another form shows they gave $8,100 on June 8, 2021. Of course, these numbers don’t reflect the fact Serrano himself chipped in $500 as well, according to the California Secretary of State website.

During a six month period between December 2020 and June 2021, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association became one of Ma’s biggest donors, funneling $15,900 into her campaign coffers. Contrast that with the San Francisco Police Officers Association, which is based in the state treasurer’s hometown. They represent a police force that is about seven times larger than that of Santa Ana’s. Campaign finance data shows that so far they have given her a combined total of $17,800 since 2004.

To put things in perspective, the Los Angeles Police Protective League gave $16,200 to Ma in 2021. They represent about 9,900 officers. Each of their members contributed about $1.64 to her re-election bid. However, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, which only represents 300 officers, gave her $15,900. Their members each contributed $53. Though campaign finance laws limit how much money anyone can give, it’s clear someone inside the latter union wanted the state treasurer to get a lot of cash.

Campaign finance data from the California Secretary of State.

For reasons which aren’t entirely clear, SB 411 was never amended to include the text of two new laws drafted for Serrano’s benefit. When The Investigator asked Noah Starr, External Affairs Manager for the State Treasurer’s Office, about why it didn’t happen, he told us to direct what questions we had about this matter to State Senator Cortese, the bill’s author. Additionally, several emails that we sent out more than a week ago to State Senator Atkins have gone unanswered.

Though we did not reach out to Serrano for this article, the embattled police union president has repeatedly denied he has done anything improper with respect to his pension. In numerous emails and legal documents reviewed by The Investigator, he claims that when he became leader of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association in 2016, he was completely unaware some of the pay he would be getting couldn’t be applied as service credit toward his future retirement benefits.

Regardless of what the case may be, Serrano’s hope for another quick legislative fix from Ma apparently is no longer an option. In response to a question The Investigator posed to Starr, her spokesman, about whether or not the State Treasurer’s Office is planning to ask any state legislators this year to introduce bills that would include language similar to what they wanted as an amendment to SB 411, his answer was quite simple. “No,” he said.

Santa Ana-Based Advertising Firm Hidden Force Behind Chamber-Backed Group Anaheim First

Tony Serna, Vice-President of Agency 51, a Santa Ana advertising firm that has been a hidden force behind Anaheim First.

Editor & Publisher

Much has been written about Anaheim First, the faux grassroots organization which, according to legal documents filed with the California Secretary of State in 2019, is controlled by Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But very little, if anything, has been said about another entity that has been a hidden force behind it.

If you have ever seen Anaheim First’s full page ads in a newspaper, a slick mailer inviting you to attend one of their town hall forums, or observed members wearing those proverbial blue shirts, you saw the handiwork of Agency 51, an advertising firm located in downtown Santa Ana, literally a block away from the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse.

Contrary to what is publicly known, Anaheim First made its debut, at least unofficially, on August 3, 2017 when Tony Serna, Vice-President of Agency 51, registered the domain “” using his name and his firm’s Santa Ana business address, email, and phone number. Records show this domain was later transferred to Visit Anaheim in 2018.

Message posted to Agency 51’s Facebook page.

But Serna does more than just run Agency 51. Not only was he a founding member of the Anaheim First Advisory Council in District 6, but he sits on the Board of Directors of the Anaheim Chamber. According to IRS Form 990 filings compiled by ProPublica, a non-partisan investigative journalism website, Serna has served on the latter body at least since 2013.

On its LinkedIn page, Agency 51 describes itself as a “full-service integrated marketing communications agency with offices in Orange County, CA, specializing in implementing complex, strategic advertising programs.” Founded as a partnership in 2001, it has two offices nationwide: one in Santa Ana and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Anaheim First is not the only major project Agency 51 has been involved with. It has an impressive list of past and present clients, including Comcast, Cox Communications, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, House of Blues Anaheim, and the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center. Furthermore, the firm has done some work for the Anaheim Family YMCA.

Agency 51 boasting about Anaheim First on its website.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anaheim First was reinvented as a marketing tool to help local restaurants, microbreweries, wine bars, and other businesses survive the economic downturn. For months, residents have seen ads on social media sites, much like the one on Agency 51’s YouTube page, offering discounts for food, drink, and other items.

However, as more people get vaccinated and life returns back to “normal,” it will undoubtedly revert to its original form. At the March 23rd meeting of the Anaheim City Council, Mayor Harry Sidhu reaffirmed his commitment to the Chamber-backed group. He is up for re-election next year. Given Anaheim First is stacked with his allies, he’ll need all the support he can get.

Anaheim City Council Push to Legalize Cannabis Businesses Could Make Mayor’s Son a Wealthy Man

Rohan Sidhu (left) stands next to his father, Harry Sidhu, the night he was sworn in as mayor of Anaheim in December 2018.

Editor & Publisher

It almost didn’t happen, but at the end of the April 21st meeting of the Anaheim City Council, just as Mayor Harry Sidhu was making his final closing remarks, Councilwoman Lucille Kring abruptly interrupted him.

“Mis… Mister Mayor, first of all, I forgot to do an agenda item,” Kring interjected.

“O.K., Councilmember Kring. Go ahead,” Sidhu replied, sounding a bit exasperated.

“Really, really, really, really fast,” said Kring.

Then she continued:

Colleagues and members of the public as you may recall a few months ago I asked the staff to work with me to prepare an ordinance for our consideration to legalize cannabis businesses in Anaheim consistent with state law and in the alternative to bring to us a resolution to place the question of cannabis businesses before the voters in November. The work on that project has been slowed down somewhat because of the Coronavirus, but we are back up and running. If I would ask staff to finish up that work on the ordinance and bring it back to us at the next council meeting May the 5th, the ordinance can be reviewed and discussed by the council, and we may choose to adopt it. We may also decide that it is better to let the voters weigh in on this issue. So if the ordinance is not adopted on May 5th, then I’d like it to be ready to bring back on May 12th to put it on the November ballot. Either way, we’ll also need to place a ballot of a local cannabis tax measure so we can do that at a later date….

“I’m asking for a second and a third on my cannabis ordinance, ” Kring stated.

Councilman Jordan Brandman seconded her motion.

“I will do the third, not a problem Councilwoman. I will do the third. So it is agendized,” replied Sidhu.

Up until this moment, nobody has really known exactly what Mayor Sidhu’s opinions have been on the issue of cannabis. But for quite some time now, The Anaheim Investigator has been well aware of what Rohan Sidhu, his 23-year old son, thinks about it. In fact, if the City of Anaheim decides to legalize cannabis businesses, he is well-positioned to get rich from it.

The Mayor’s Son is a ‘Pot Entrepreneur’

Evidence The Investigator has uncovered shows that Mayor Sidhu’s son is a “pot entrepreneur.” Not only does Rohan run a firm that offers “design and operational consulting for the legal cannabis industry,” helping secure licenses for cannabis businesses across the state, but he boasts that he helped set up “OC’s largest Type 6 cannabis oil Extraction and Distillation facility” in 2018.

According to a document Rohan filed with the California Secretary of State on August 6, 2018, he states he is “Chief Executive Officer” of an entity called RSSC LLC, a limited liability company. He describes the type of “business or services” being offered as “Engineering Consulting.” The listed address, however, appears to be a private mail box located at a U.S. Post Office in downtown Los Angeles.

But the information posted on Rohan’s LinkedIn page is more revealing. He states that RSSC LLC was founded in January 2018–not August 2018–as was suggested in the document he filed with the Secretary of State. But to his credit, he goes into detail about what kind of “work” his firm really does: it helps cannabis businesses get their licenses and permits to operate legally.

Below is a reproduction of what Rohan typed:

RSSC LLC * Full-time
Jan 2018 – Present * 2 yrs 4 mos
Orange County, California Area

Design and Operational consulting for the legal Cannabis industry.
With our team of engineers, architects, attorneys, policy consultants, and designers we can make your cannabis industry dreams come true.

Our team is responsible for securing over 25 MCSB/BCC state issued cannabis licenses, across the state of California.

We can help guide you through State and City licensing processes and procedures for the Cannabis Industry.

We have over 15 client facilities currently operating compliantly, through the state.

We have expertise in Type 6, Type 7, Type N Cultivation Facilities, Distribution/Transportation, Retail, and Testing Lab design/management/compliance.

Consider us your allies through the states venture into legalization, and legislation. We can help interpret CA’s new laws, so you can operate your facilities without worry.

But that’s not all.

Between January and May 2018, Rohan also mentions he was “Co-Founder” of yet another entity called SW Ventures LLC.

Here is what he wrote:

Co-Founder – CTO
SW Ventures LLC * Full-time
Jan 2018 – May 2018 * 5 mos

Costa Mesa

Conception and design of OC’s largest Type 6 cannabis oil Extraction and Distillation facility. Developed a successful CUP application, with supplementary documents, for Costa Mesa City, approved by Planning Commission and City Council with 0 comments/concerns.

Indeed, documents from the Costa Mesa Planning Commission, including one report dated October 15, 2018, make it clear that SW Ventures LLC was seeking

a Conditional Use Permit for a marijuana manufacturing and distribution facility (SW Ventures, LLC) within a 7,178-square-foot tenant space of an existing industrial building. The proposed facility will include ethanol cannabis extraction, distillation, packaging and formulation and distribution of the final product in vaping pens, tablets/capsules, and edibles. Rooms include extraction and distillation, storage and packaging, and ancillary offices. Vehicles used for the distribution of cannabis products will be pulled into a secured area inside the building. The facility will have security systems (card readers, security cameras, etc.) throughout the facility. No cultivation of marijuana, or marijuana dispensary, is permitted.

With respect to Rohan’s ties to this firm, The Investigator couldn’t find his name on any incorporation documents that were submitted to the Secretary of State. However, a Form 460 that was filed with the City of Costa Mesa shows he gave a $249 to the “Figueredo-Wilson for City Council 2018” candidates committee on September 15, 2018. He listed SW Ventures LLC as being his “employer.”

Mayor’s Son Could Become a Wealthy Man

If the city decides to legalize cannabis businesses, Rohan could become a wealthy man. For one thing, “pot entrepreneurs” would flock here to set up operations. They would need a consultant like RSSC LLC to help them navigate the complex legal environment. reports firms like his “have been known to charge over $100,000” for their services, even take ownership stakes in cannabis businesses.

Given Anaheim’s historically low electricity rates, easy access to freeways, and large market of consumers–which also includes millions of tourists–it is not inconceivable it could become the “weed capital” of Orange County. Regardless, Mayor Sidhu’s son is well-positioned to get rich from it. And any vote his father makes in favor of legalization of cannabis businesses is a vote to make that possible.

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