Archive for the tag “Orange County Democratic Party”

Democratic Mayoral Candidate Says Campaign Ended Ties With Consultant Under FBI Scrutiny for Alleged Bribes

Ashleigh Aitken (left), Democratic candidate for Anaheim mayor, with Melahat Rafiei (right), owner of Progressive Solutions Consulting, in 2019.

By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher

The Anaheim Investigator has discovered that a Form 460 filed by the “Aitken for Mayor 2022” campaign committee reported they made a $10,000 payment to Progressive Solutions Consulting, a firm owned by Melahat Rafiei, a Democratic Party operative who is at the center of a corruption scandal involving cannabis businesses and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

The document in question, which was submitted to the City of Anaheim on January 31, 2022, lists on page 77 that Progressive Solutions Consulting received the cash sometime between July and December of last year. The code used to identify the purpose of the payment is “CNS,” meaning Rafiei was consulting Ashleigh Aitken on her bid to become Anaheim’s next mayor.

In response to several questions The Investigator posed to Aitken about her relationship with Rafiei, the mayoral candidate acknowledged her “campaign contracted with Progressive Solutions Consulting at the end of 2021,” but said “we terminated our relationship with the company in February when Melahat Rafiei informed us that she was the subject of an investigation.”

On Thursday, Rafiei admitted to the Voice of OC she was “CW1,” a cooperating witness mentioned in an affidavit the Federal Bureau of Investigation filed in federal court to support criminal charges against Todd Ament, former president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. However, she has denied allegations she tried to bribe public officials in the City of Irvine.

Besides being a political consultant, Rafiei also happens to be the co-founder of WeCann, a company based near downtown Santa Ana that boasts itself as a “one-stop shop for cannabis entrepreneurs,” helping them with a wide array of issues ranging from “real estate acquisition and disposition, licensing fulfillment, business and investment consulting, and public advocacy.”

Furthermore, Rafiei, who is a resident of Anaheim Hills, not only is a member of the Cultural and Heritage Commission of the City of Anaheim, but was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2021 to serve on the Board of Directors of the Orange County Fair Board in Costa Mesa, a deliberative body of which Aitken has also been a part of since 2012.

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.

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.

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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