Archive for the tag “Anaheim City Council”

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.

Santa Ana Police Union Made $10,000 Donation to Blog Run by Political Consultant Tied to Anaheim Chamber

Matt Cunningham (left), Editor & Publisher of the OC Independent, with his wife Laura (right), President & CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

The Anaheim Investigator has acquired a copy of the draft minutes of the September 23, 2021 board meeting of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association which reports they made a $10,000 donation to the OC Independent, a right-wing news blog started last year by Matt Cunningham, a well-known political consultant with deep ties to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County Republican Party.

Reliable sources have told The Investigator that Cunningham, along with several associates, attended the September board meeting and delivered a presentation about his new blog, OC Independent, to members of that body. In addition, they claim shortly after he finished speaking, Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, actively lobbied the board to write out a check to help fund it.

The Investigator first became aware of this matter back in December when it obtained emails exchanged between police officers stating the owner of the Anaheim Independent had gotten $10,000 from Serrano for his new blog and alleged it might be used as a platform to attack certain Santa Ana politicians. The Anaheim Independent is the previous name of the Anaheim Observer, an older blog that Cunningham still operates.

Excerpt from the board meeting minutes.

This newfound alliance between Cunningham and Serrano is yet another unexpected twist in The Investigator’s ongoing coverage of the embattled police union president of whom, at least from our perspective, has made what could be aptly described as a Faustian bargain with a political consultant who is sometimes at odds with–if not been completely opposed to–the goals of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.

For example, on April 2, 2020, Cunningham made an urgent appeal to all of his Santa Ana friends on Facebook to vote “no” on the recall of Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias, a right-wing Republican the police union spent $341,000 to remove from her seat. Beneath his message was one of her anti-recall videos which not only portrayed Serrano as a greedy “union boss,” but characterized people like him as “bullies.”

Furthermore, Serrano’s alliance with Cunningham becomes even more bizarre over the fact the company the latter hired to set up the OC Independent website, HashtagPinpoint, is run by Pasquale Talarico, a former Deputy Chief of Staff for ex-State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, a politician who literally built his entire career on calling for drastic cuts to public employee pensions, especially for law enforcement personnel.

According to OpenSecrets, an independent, non-partisan organization which tracks the flow of money in U.S. politics, HashtagPinpoint earned about $40,500 from the Orange County Republican Party in 2020, making them their top vendor that year. Another one of their clients is the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, of which Cunningham’s wife, Laura, took over the reigns as President and CEO at the end of March.

Another firm tied to the OC Independent, albeit loosely, is GC Strategies, LLC, owned by Cameron Wessel. Earlier this year, Briana Walker, a Mission Viejo activist, not only discovered one of its employees was writing for this blog, but that Wessel opened an office a few doors down from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. Walker also noted he has a contract with the City of Anaheim to be Councilman Trevor O’Neil’s senior policy aide.

The Investigator has been aware for quite some time now that O’Neil is a close friend of Cunningham, even occasionally stumbling across email communications between the two during routine public records act requests. However, what is not known publicly is that both men have had a longstanding relationship with Fred Whitaker, a local attorney who has been chairman of the Orange County Republican Party since 2015.

Cunningham and Whitaker.

There is no evidence the OC Independent receives any direct funding from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But it is not a coincidence many political consultants with links to the Orange County Republican Party gravitate to this business advocacy group. This entity has always been an important hub of social networks for jobs because it is connected to many key players in industry and government.

For matter of record, The Investigator emailed several questions to Cunningham asking him about the $10,000 donation he received from the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, if he had conversations with Serrano or anybody else about the OC Independent running “negative articles about certain Santa Ana politicians,” and if he plans to approach other public employee unions for money to help fund this blog.

In response to our inquiry, Cunningham wrote the following:

OC Independent, like other independent news organizations, has a broad base of supporters to pursue its mission. We will not sell, share or trade our donors’ names or personal information with any other entity, nor send mailings to our donors on behalf of other organizations to respect donor privacy. As editor, I ensure our news stories are researched thoroughly, all subjects and stakeholders have an opportunity to comment, and then present the news to the public.

The Investigator also made three attempts to contact Serrano about this matter, emailing him questions quite similar to those we posed to Cunningham. But despite giving him an ample amount of time to issue a response, the police union president so far has not bothered replying to any of our messages. However, if we do eventually hear from him, we will most assuredly let our readers know.

Below is copy of the draft minutes of the September 23, 2021 board meeting of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.

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.

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.]

Uncle of Councilman’s Wife, Who Donated $200 to His Campaign, Got City-Owned Tickets Worth $410

Alex Ruiz (center) celebrating the marriage of Monica Munguia (left), his niece, to Avelino Valencia III (right), at their wedding in 2019.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

In a careful re-examination of all Form 802s that Councilman Avelino Valencia III filed in the months of April and May, The Anaheim Investigator has discovered a local businessman he gave city-owned baseball tickets to is also an uncle of his wife, making him legally his nephew.

In June, The Investigator reported that Alex Ruiz, owner of Alex’s Flooring Company, received two tickets from Valencia valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Indians game on May 19th. Furthermore, campaign finance records also show Ruiz had contributed $200 to his city council race in 2020.

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

But at that time, we didn’t know Ruiz was a relative of Valencia. Our latest investigation into who the councilman has been handing out tickets to was spurred, ironically, by an unusual email we obtained from the City of Anaheim through a routine California Public Records Act request.

In that email, Luiz Torres, a city council assistant, warned Valencia The Investigator was “looking into each and every council members” ticket filings. As a result of this message, we decided all the persons he named on his Form 802s deserved a second look to see if we missed anything. And we did.

Much of the new evidence comes from social media. In a message Ruiz posted on Facebook in 2019, he tags Valencia and his wife. “Had the great pleasure of attending my beautiful niece Monica and Avelino [sic] wedding this weekend,” he typed. Also included: a photo of himself with the newlyweds.

In two messages Ruiz posted in 2020, he encouraged all of his friends to back Avelino’s effort to win a seat on the city council. “If you’re in the Anaheim area please support my nephew. A wonderful person and very committed to helping out the community,” he waxed enthusiastically.

On May 19th of this year, he posted photos and videos of himself attending the Angels vs. Indians game. In one 46-second video Ruiz shot with his phone, he parades around the luxury suite his nephew’s tickets gave him access to, showing off the amenities. “Check out where I’m at,” he boasts.

Our discovery that Valencia gave tickets to his uncle adds a new twist to this story. Up until now, the councilman has been able to skirt around the rules and hand them out to close personal friends, campaign backers, and Democratic Party operatives without facing any repercussions.

But these tickets are public assets. Valencia is a public official. There are rules, policies, and laws–everything from local administrative regulations to federal anti-corruption statutes–which not only forbid, but make it illegal for a politician to use the power of their office to benefit family members.

Though a more thorough investigation needs to be conducted into this matter by knowledgeable legal experts to determine if Valencia has crossed the line and violated any civil or criminal laws, it wouldn’t be premature for us to say that he has already done so at least when it comes to government ethics.

‘Angry Confrontation’ With Former Commissioner Occurred at Event for Proposed Veterans Cemetery

Councilman Stephen Faessel said the “angry confrontation” between himself and Larry Larsen occurred at the event for the proposed veterans cemetery.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

In an email to The Anaheim Investigator, Councilman Stephen Faessel said the “angry confrontation” between himself and Larry Larsen occurred at the July 1st event for the proposed veterans cemetery in Anaheim Hills. “As an elected official, I welcome hearing from anyone,” he told The Investigator. “But Larry’s abusive language and hostile behavior crossed the line.”

“I did not call the police, nor ask anyone to call on my behalf,” Faessel said. “I was contacted by officers just as Larry Larsen was, and happily answered all their questions, as reflected in the police record.” The councilman did say, however, he informed the organizers of the July 4th parade about the incident, who reportedly passed this information on to police.

Below is his account of what transpired:

Larry Larsen stopped me when I arrived at a recent event for a proposed veterans cemetery in far east Anaheim on July 1st. He was yelling at me, clearly still angry about his removal from the Sister City Commission two months earlier.

As an elected official, I welcome hearing from anyone, but Larry’s abusive language and hostile behavior crossed the line. The veterans cemetery event was not the time or the place for an angry confrontation about his removal from a city commission, for comments that sadly speak for themselves.

As I disengaged from him and made my way over to the event, Larry yelled after me, ‘I’ll see you on the Fourth! I’ll see you on the Fourth!’ He was referring to the upcoming Fourth of July celebration where I would be riding in the parade.

A few hours later, Larry sent me an email addressed to myself and Councilmember Trevor O’Neil, full of hostile language and again promising he would see us on the Fourth of July to pick up where he left off. As a precaution, I gave a heads-up to the parade organizers. As the event’s first time back since the pandemic restrictions, I wanted to see the celebration go on without disruption from something that had nothing to do with gathering our community to honor our country.

I shared a reasonable concern in the best interest of seeing the event go on without incident, which I’m glad to say, was the case.

I did not call the police, nor ask anyone to call on my behalf. I was contacted by officers just as Larry Larsen was, and happily answered all their questions, as reflected in the police record.

I would have preferred that the matter be dropped, but the police felt it prudent to follow up with Mr. Larsen. As always, the Anaheim Police handled the matter professionally and carried out their duty with respect for all involved.

As The Investigator reported last week, Larsen, a longtime community activist who at times has been known to have a brash and acerbic demeanor, made an astonishing revelation at the July 13th meeting of the Anaheim City Council: he openly accused Faessel of sending cops to his private residence to investigate him for being a “terrorist.”

“July 2nd, between 8:30 and 9-o-clock at night, two Anaheim police officers knocked on my front door,” he said. “They were there on the behest of Mr. Faessel. And, in my words, they were there to investigate the possibility of me creating some kind of terrorist diversion or distraction on the July 4th parade,” which takes place in Anaheim Hills.

But The Investigator obtained a hardcopy of the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) log which tracked the activities of the policemen who visited Larsen’s home on the evening of July 2nd. And the information it contains clearly shows that it was Captain Eric Trapp of the Anaheim Police–not the councilman–who ordered the probe.

Captain Eric Trapp.

According to the log, Trapp first sent two officers to Faessel’s house to investigate a possible PC 422–a criminal threat. But the officers quickly ruled that out. Their inquiry shifted toward a “disturbance” on July 1st where Larsen, angry over his removal from the Sister City Commission, confronted Faessel, his wife, and an aide about it.

Though there are no remarks on the log about what was discussed when these policemen later dropped by Larsen’s residence, it should be noted he was not arrested. In fact, the document hints the investigation was “cleared,” strongly suggesting this case was closed and no criminal charges would be forthcoming.

For matter of record, The Investigator did make an earlier attempt to contact Larsen. We were especially interested in getting his side of the story with respect to the “angry confrontation” he had with the councilman. But he never bothered to respond to any of the messages we left on his home and personal phones.

Police Dispatch Log Shows Councilman Did Not Send Cops to Home of Former Commissioner

Larry Larsen, a former member of the Sister City Commission, is shown here speaking at a political rally in front of Anaheim City Hall in 2012.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

At the July 13th meeting of the Anaheim City Council, Larry Larsen, a longtime community activist who at times has been known to have a brash and acerbic demeanor, made an astonishing revelation: he openly accused Councilman Stephen Faessel of using the power of his office to send cops to his private residence to investigate him for being a “terrorist.”

“July 2nd, between 8:30 and 9-o-clock at night, two Anaheim police officers knocked on my front door,” Larsen said. “They were there on the behest of Mr. Faessel. And, in my words, they were there to investigate the possibility of me creating some kind of terrorist diversion or distraction on the July 4th parade,” which takes place in Anaheim Hills.

“Is this what this city has come to, some kind of a fascist city where each city councilman can use the police to carry out their wishes and demands?” he continued. “I demand that there be an investigation … on the false charges …. I also demand that Mr. Faessel be suspended immediately from the city council until the results … are reported.”

But The Anaheim Investigator has obtained a hardcopy of the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) log which tracked the activities of the policemen who visited Larsen’s home on the evening of July 2nd. And the information it contains shows that it was Command Staff of the Anaheim Police Department–not the councilman–who ordered the investigation.

Sgt. Shane Carringer, public information officer for Anaheim Police, told The Investigator that though he didn’t know who Command Staff initially spoke with regarding this matter, he confirmed it was Capt. Eric Trapp who instructed Sgt. Bryan Janocha to make the call to enter it into their CAD system. Indeed, the latter officer is listed as being the “complainant.”

Capt. Trapp orders an investigation.

According to the log, Anaheim Police first sent two officers to Faessel’s house to investigate a “poss 422”–a criminal threat. But that was quickly ruled out. Their inquiry soon shifted toward a “disturbance” on July 1st where Larsen, angry over his removal from the Sister City Commission, allegedly confronted Faessel, his wife, and an aide about it.

During the alleged confrontation, Larsen made statements which not only caused Faessel’s aide to become “upset/scared,” but raised concerns he “may do something at the parade.” “Wait until Sunday,” he reportedly warned. The councilman told police he was “not desirous of prosecution,” but wanted the incident “documented” just in case Larsen “tried to do anything.”

Despite the fact there are no remarks on the log about what was said when these officers later dropped by Larsen’s residence, it does show them preparing for a visit: they conducted a routine criminal background check roughly 32 minutes before they knocked on his door. “Can you run his RAP and see if he has weapons registered to him?” one policeman asked dispatch.

It should be noted this log does not reflect the full story of what transpired. But what information it has undermines Larsen’s claim cops were sent to his home “on the behest of Mr. Faessel.” Furthermore, if he angrily made comments hinting to the councilman about something happening at the July 4th parade, police may have had a legitimate reason to question him.

For matter of record, The Investigator made an attempt to contact Larsen seeking his comments for this article. We were especially interested in getting his side of the story with respect to the alleged confrontation he had with Faessel, his wife, and an aide on July 1st. However, he never responded to any of the messages we left on his home and personal phones.

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 Brandman Gave City-Owned Angels Baseball Tickets to a Former Business Client

Councilman Jordan Brandman gave city-owned Angels baseball tickets to a businessman who was a former client of his through a previous job.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

A Form 802 that Councilman Jordan Brandman recently filed states he gave Dave Sorem, owner of the Mike Bubalo Construction Company, two tickets valued at $410 for an Angels vs. Astros game on April 6th, ostensibly for the purpose of “attracting or rewarding volunteer public service.”

But The Anaheim Investigator has evidence Sorem was a former business client of his through a previous job. Between 2017 and 2018, the councilman worked for the Engineering Contractors’ Association, an Anaheim-based advocacy group where Sorem has been a longtime executive board member.

Brandman, however, wasn’t directly employed by the ECA, but through a firm they do business with called the Southern California Group, an entity controlled by Richard Lambros and Peter Mitchell, the latter of whom is also a registered lobbyist for the Anaheim Police Association.

According to a Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed on August 8, 2018, Brandman reported at that time he was “Vice-President” of the Southern California Group, earning “over $100,000” in salary from them. He listed their primary business activity as “strategic public affairs.”

The ECA describes its mission as serving the “infrastructure contractors of Southern California through project-based advocacy, labor-management relations, political action and fair public policy.” Most of its members are heavy construction companies that bid on public works projects.

Brandman‘s involvement with the ECA has been documented in their monthly publication. For example, a photograph of him with Sorem appears on page 19 of their October 2017 issue. He is also shown attending an open house at their Anaheim office on page 13 in the following issue.

Sorem and Brandman (both on the left) at an ECA event in 2017.

Last Wednesday, The Investigator sent out an email message to Brandman and Claudia Perez, his Senior Policy Aide, to request more information about the type of “volunteer public service” that Sorem has been involved in. So far neither of them have responded to our inquiry.

Brandman is a notorious peddler of city-owned tickets to lobbyists, campaign contributors, and friends. He has even been caught giving tickets to one of his former bosses at the Southern California Group–a transaction which earned him the scrutiny of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office last year.

But he isn’t the only one who does this. On June 1st, The Investigator reported that incoming Councilman Avelino Valencia III has already hijacked the city’s ticket system for selfish political purposes. And be rest assured, more articles about how these and other politicians abuse this system are forthcoming.

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