Archive for the category “Ernesto Amado Conde”

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.

By DUANE ROBERTS
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 Police Union Spent $2,500 to Help Re-Elect Future Councilman to Democratic Party Central Committee

Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, with Fiona Ma, California State Treasurer, and other close friends.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

In a highly unusual move, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, under the leadership of Gerry Serrano, their president, spent approximately $2,500 in a failed effort to help then-future Councilman Avelino Valencia III get re-elected to his seat on the Central Committee of the Orange County Democratic Party in March 2020, according to campaign finance reports filed with the City of Santa Ana on July 31st of that year.

Paperwork that Valencia submitted to the Orange County Registrar of Voters shows he raised $6,600 for that race, of which $2,500 was from the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Political Action Committee. The rest of the money came from a candidates committee controlled directly by his employer, Tom Daly, a Democratic State Assemblyman who currently serves the 69th District, an area covering Anaheim and Santa Ana.

From a Form 460 Valencia filed for his central committee race.

It is extremely odd for an organization like the Santa Ana Police Officers Association to give funds to a candidate seeking election to the central committee of a political party. But if anything, it is indicative of how important Valencia is to Serrano and his top allies. Indeed, The Anaheim Investigator has uncovered evidence suggesting only friends who are part of the latter’s inner circle are given this type of favorable treatment.

As a case in point, Valencia filed a Form 460 on January 28, 2021 reporting that he transferred $400 in surplus campaign funds–essentially leftover police union cash–to Tina Arias Miller, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Rancho Santiago Community College District. Sources have alleged Miller is the girlfriend of Ernesto Amado Conde, a retired Santa Ana Police sergeant, who is one of Serrano’s most trusted associates.

Valencia transferred $400 to alleged girlfriend of Conde.

Documents reviewed by The Investigator not only reveal that the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Political Action Committee also spent $2,500 to help Miller get elected to the Central Committee of the Orange County Democratic Party, but another independent expenditure committee they are linked to pumped $2,500 into her bid to win a seat on the Board of Trustees of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.

However, Miller wasn’t the only one who benefited from this cash. Much of it ended up in the pockets of Conde, who at that time owned a campaign consulting firm called Indigo Public Affairs, which has done thousands of dollars worth of business with the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. For example, one Form 460 that Miller filed for her central committee race reported she paid him $2,900 for services rendered.

Miller and Conde.

With respect to Valencia, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association followed a similar pattern of giving. Not only did they hand him $2,500 for his ill-fated central committee race, but they spent $2,100 (the maximum) on his Anaheim City Council election. Furthermore, Serrano chipped in an additional $750–perhaps in return for the $250 he got from Valencia when he ran for a Garden Grove City Council seat in 2018.

But campaign contributions aren’t the only things that tie Valencia to Serrano’s inner circle. Last month, The Investigator reported the councilman gave two city-owned Angels tickets valued at $410 to Gerry’s wife, Serina, and may have tried to conceal this fact from public disclosure by attempting to file a false Form 802 using her maiden name. And we have already mentioned in an article published in June that he gave tickets to Conde.

A Form 802 Valencia filed shows he gave tickets to Conde.

Of course, all of this begs the question as to why Valencia is so cozy with Serrano and his top allies. But the answer is quite simple. The Investigator believes the former 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, Daly, his boss, is termed out in 2024. However, to do that, he’ll need support not only in Anaheim, but in Santa Ana.

Regardless of what one may think about the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, they wield a lot of influence and power, if not more so in a top-two primary system where all voters may cast a ballot for any candidate, regardless of political affiliation. Their backing in the 69th District could prove critical in helping a right-wing Democrat like Valencia squeeze past the primary with a small plurality of votes and end up in Sacramento.

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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