Archive for the category “The Walt Disney Company”

Likely Front Runners Vying for District 4 City Council Seat Have Hidden Ties to Disney-Funded SOAR

Linda Newby (left) with Natalie Meeks (right) at a closed-door meeting of the Anaheim First Neighborhood Leadership Summit in July 2019.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

Norma Campos-Kurtz and Linda Newby, two candidates of whom The Anaheim Investigator believes are the likely front runners in the race to fill the District 4 city council seat vacated by Avelino Valencia III last year, have hidden ties to Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR), an entity mostly funded by The Walt Disney Company.

Evidence reviewed by The Investigator–including campaign finance documents, numerous photographs, and archived websites–not only show that both women have contributed money to SOAR’s political action committee through various fundraisers, but that one of them was appointed to its separate advisory board in 2022.

Newby, a longtime resident of Anaheim, is the owner of Gallery Travel, a “full-service travel agency.” Between 2013 and 2014, she served on the board of directors of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and has been active in other groups formed by that body, such as Anaheim First, which was backed by former Mayor Harry Sidhu.

Multiple photographs in the possession of The Investigator show Newby has participated in SOAR fundraisers on and off since 2014. Form 460s filed by SOAR with the City Clerk’s office report she gave at least $100 to them on at least four different occasions (the last time being August 26, 2021), but did so under the name of her business.

Newby with Sidhu.

Campos-Kurtz, like Newby, has also given SOAR cash. For example, a Form 460 filed in 2020 reports that she made a $100 contribution in October. But another form filed a year earlier shows that Ken Kurtz, her husband, gave them about $200. Notes mention that his payment was made directly to Jill Kanzler, then executive director.

Campos-Kurtz with her husband.

Early in 2022, Campos-Kurtz was appointed to the SOAR Advisory Committee–a fact that she neglected to mention in the application she filed with the city seeking appointment to the District 4 council seat. Additionally, she said nothing about her brief stint with Anaheim First, which still lists her as a member on their website.

That Campos-Kurtz has a close relationship with SOAR is of no surprise. Between 2014 and 2021, she worked for Democratic State Assemblyman Tom Daly, who was one of the earliest champions of this Disney-funded entity. Not only do Form 460s show that Daly got funds from them, but he bragged about their endorsement in 2012.

In 2020, SOAR spent a whopping $405,710–the bulk of which came from The Walt Disney Company–to help Valencia get elected to his District 4 city council seat. It’s not a coincidence that at the time this was happening, he was working as a field representative for Daly and Campos-Kurtz just so happened to be his boss.

Screenshot from SOAR’s website.

Despite the fact eleven other people have filed applications seeking appointment to the District 4 city council seat, The Investigator believes that none of them ever stood a chance of being considered for this position. From our perspective, the decision as to who will replace Valencia had already been made weeks ago.

However, there appears to be no clear consensus on the Anaheim City Council right now as to whether they will pick Campos-Kurtz or Newby. There is a possibility the vote could end up deadlocked 3-3 for both. Regardless of what the case will be, the odds a candidate tied to SOAR will be chosen to fill this seat are quite high.

Did Councilman Try to File False Form to Hide Fact He Gave Tickets to Wife of Santa Ana Police Union President?

Gerry Serrano (left), President of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, with Serina (right), his wife, at an event in Newport Beach in 2017.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

In 2019, when Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, reviewed more than 1,539 ticket disclosure formsForm 802s as they are called—to see who received the thousands of dollars worth of tickets the city got each year from Angel Stadium and Honda Center, he noticed an unusual practice: some council members were trying to avoid publicly disclosing the identity of persons they were really giving tickets to by reporting that they gave them to their spouse instead.

For example, San Roman discovered that then-Councilman Jordan Brandman had given city-owned tickets valued at $900 to Carrie Nocella, a lobbyist for The Walt Disney Company. But on the Form 802 that was filed, he stated those tickets were meant for Tom Nocella, her husband. Brandman had a ready-made excuse. “Tom is a longtime Anaheim resident,” he said. “Like all other council members, I regularly recognize numerous residents, community groups and city employees by behesting them tickets …”

Unfortunately for Brandman, that same rationale can’t be used to explain why, according to two Form 802s filed earlier this year, he handed out $1,230 worth of Angels tickets to Suzanne Bilodeau. Besides the fact Suzanne has lived in Orange for almost thirty years, her husband is Denis Bilodeau, a close friend of Brandman’s. Both served together on the Board of Directors of the Orange County Water District for several years before the latter resigned from his seat on the Anaheim City Council in August.

Likewise, when The Anaheim Investigator learned that Councilman Avelino Valencia III gave two Angels tickets valued at $410 to Serina Serrano, a resident of Garden Grove, we looked at who her spouse is to fully understand the reason why she got them. Serina is married to Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. As we have previously reported, both Gerry and his union made $2,850 in campaign contributions to the “Valencia for City Council 2020” committee last year.

But documents The Investigator obtained under the California Public Records Act show Valencia may have tried to go further than this. An earlier Form 802 the councilman submitted offers prima facie evidence suggesting he made an attempt to hide Serina’s identity from public disclosure by using Serina Porras, her maiden name, instead of Serina Serrano, her married (and legal) one. If this form had been officially filed with the city under her maiden name, it would have been much harder to link her to Gerry.

Screenshot of the withdrawn Form 802 with Serina’s maiden name.

However, Valencia eventually had to withdraw that Form 802 and replace it with a new one which used her legal name. Why? When Serina had a problem downloading Angels tickets to a wallet on her smartphone, she questioned city staff about emails being sent which made reference to her maiden name. “Why is it addressed Serina Porras?” she asked Luiz Torres, a city council assistant who works for Valencia. “I haven’t used that last name in over 23 years. So it doesn’t reflect on any of my ID’s.”

Serina asking why her maiden name is being used.

In a followup message, Torres told Serina that he got this information directly from the councilman. “I was unaware that we had your old name filed,” he typed. But in a stunning admission, he acknowledged to Serina he knew what her legal name was: “Frankly, I used Serina Serrano for this email thread because that was your apparent name based on your email address.” Indeed, The Investigator has an unredacted copy of her personal email address and can confirm he was using it to communicate with her.

Though Torres would later claim Valencia was “unaware of the name change,” all of this begs the question of how he knew Serina’s maiden name was Porras? Furthermore, the councilman himself most likely provided his city council assistant with her personal email address. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume since that email has Serrano as her last name, that’s how she identifies herself? Perhaps it should be noted she uses it as a last name on all of her identifiable social media accounts as well.

Under California state law, there are criminal statutes—specifically Penal Code 115—which make it a crime to file a false Form 802 with a government agency. For example, if a person knowingly files a document that contains inaccurate information, they could face a felony charge. However, a document has to have been officially filed with an agency before a prosecution can take place. That didn’t happen in this situation. The Form 802 in question was withdrawn and quickly replaced with a corrected version.

Regardless of what Valencia was trying to do, he definitely had a motive to conceal his ties to Gerry Serrano. Not only has the latter been a controversial and divisive figure in Santa Ana politics, but he has been subject of multiple investigations into alleged misconduct by local, state, and federal authorities–including reportedly being the target of a grand jury probe. The councilman’s squeaky-clean image would undoubtedly be tarnished if he was caught handing out tickets to such a troubled individual.

For matter of record, The Investigator emailed Valencia approximately three times requesting comment for this article. We wanted to know the reason why he felt motivated to use Serina’s maiden name on the original Form 802 he submitted, then later withdrew due to her questioning why it was being used. We were hoping that his reply would put our concerns about this matter to rest. But so far, the dapper councilman from District 4 hasn’t bothered responding to any of the messages we sent him.

Newly Appointed Councilwoman Attended ‘Victory Party’ at Mayor’s Anaheim Hills Estate in 2018

Mayor Harry Sidhu (left) welcoming Gloria Ma’ae (right) to his “Victory Party” at his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

During the Tuesday, September 14th meeting of the Anaheim City Council, when Councilman Jose Moreno began raising objections to the “process” that body had chosen to select a replacement candidate for a councilman who had vacated his seat, hinting it was “preordained,” or rigged in favor of applicant Gloria Ma’ae, Mayor Harry Sidhu could barely contain his anger.

“Councilmember Moreno, I’m very much disappointed in you in bringing this up,” Sidhu said in a raised tone of voice. “It is one of the fairest process we’ve been through. We gave every applicant an opportunity to meet with the residents. We gave every opportunity for the residents to come out and speak, whether in favor, or whether in opposition of the candidates who applied.”

“It was given opportunity of the applicant to have one-to-one meet with the councilmembers,” he continued. “[T]he way it was done, was proper, giving everybody an opportunity to come and speak. I spoke, and I sat down with every applicant here …. [Y]ou’re trying to talk about unfair process is … in my opinion, is wrong. And this was a completely a transparent process…”

But when it comes to transparency, The Anaheim Investigator knows Sidhu has a less-than-stellar reputation. For example, when the mayor joined along with an unsuccessful scheme by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to legalize cannabis businesses, he failed to disclose the fact his son is a high-paid consultant to the pot industry who was well-positioned to profit from it.

Likewise, at the September 14th council meeting, when Sidhu tried to rush through Ma’ae’s appointment with very little discussion or input, he said nothing about his close personal ties with her. Besides the fact Ma’ae is a known supporter of the mayor, she was a “special guest” at a “Victory Party” he held on his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.

Sidhu giving Ma’ae a hug.

The Investigator has roughly a dozen photographs of Ma’ae that were taken at the event. Besides the three we have published here, others show her mingling with then-Councilman Jordan Brandman and Lea Ament, the wife of Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber. In most photos, Ma’ae is seen with persons who would later be linked to Anaheim First.

Ma’ae chatting with Sidhu.

Despite what reservations The Investigator has about Moreno, he was correct: Ma’ae’s appointment was “preordained.” However, the “process” of selecting her really began in 2007 when she started participating in a “front group” called Support Our Anaheim Resort, run by a Newport Beach public relations expert hired by The Walt Disney Company and Anaheim Chamber.

Recently, “front groups” like SOAR, and now Anaheim First, have been one mechanism the resort elite has used to vet candidates for appointment to various boards, commissions and city council seats. The decision to put Ma’ae on the council was years in the making. That doesn’t mean Sidhu’s role should be discounted. But he’s just a cog in a much bigger political machine.

[Update: An earlier version of this post stated Gloria Ma’ae started participating in Support Our Anaheim Resort in 2011. That is incorrect. She began in 2007.]

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