For example, we discovered the mayor had some sort of link to Anaheim Beautiful, a non-profit organization that Faessel and his wife have championed. Multiple photographs The Investigator reviewed show Aitken attended a couple of events this group held at various venues, sometimes while the councilman’s wife was present.
In one photo of a September 2018 luncheon, Aitken can be seen seated at a table directly across from Campos-Kurtz, a who not only joined the Board of Directors of Anaheim Beautiful the previous year, but also maintained a tight relationship with Faessel through her job as district director for state Assemblyman Tom Daly.
Campos-Kurtz (back to camera) with Aitken in 2018.
In an attempt to learn more, The Investigator sent an email to Faessel asking him about his interactions with Aitken, including what knowledge he had about her with respect to Anaheim Beautiful, especially since evidence in our possession suggested that she had been affiliated with this non-profit for at least six years.
In response, the councilman told us that though he doesn’t consider Ashleigh to be a close friend, he has known her for “some years” now. But he said that they became acquainted with each other through their involvement with the Muzeo Museum&Cultural Center and Community Services Board, not Anaheim Beautiful.
Below is Faessel‘s reply:
I served as a member of the original MUZEO board with Betty Aiken and got to know her husband Wylie through that connection, I recall that Ashleigh chaired a MUZEO Fundraiser years ago when her mom and dad were still active in the organization.
My wife Susan served on the Anaheim Community Services Board along with Mrs. Ashleigh Aitken for a couple years in the later 2000’s (I cannot recall exactly) so certainly I got to meet her from time to time there.
While you mentioned her being a member of Anaheim Beautiful, I do not have any personal knowledge of that. Susan and I are very supportive of Anaheim Beautiful however I don’t know every member. She may have been a member.
To go to your main question, we know of each other and have for some years. We do not, nor ever have met socially (unless we happened to have attended the same event coincidentally.)
Therefore I would not describe our relationship as ‘close friends.’
The Anaheim Investigator made at least three attempts to contact Aitken and Berenice Ballinas, her chief of staff, requesting comment for this article. However, for some strange reason, the mayor, who claims to be open and transparent with everybody, declined to answer any of the questions we sent her and ignored our emails.
Norma Campos-Kurtz (left) with Jordan Brandman (right) at an Anaheim Beautiful luncheon in December 2017.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In the aftermath of the AnaheimCity Council vote to appointNorma Campos-Kurtz to the District 4 seat vacated by Avelino Valencia III last year, a number of partisan Democrats were struggling to figure out the reason why Councilman Stephen Faessel was seemingly “chosen” to nominate her during the final round of balloting.
One video that was circulated on various Facebook groups made an attempt to understand what transpired by carefully dissecting every single move the council made that night. But such superficial analysis always ends up becoming an exercise in futility especially if you don’t know anything about the context of the behavior which took place.
The Anaheim Investigator, however, knew there was a very simple explanation for all of this. And we really didn’t have to dig that deep to find it. Evidence shows that Campos-Kurtz and Faessel are friends. Regardless of what the councilman’s publicly-stated motives were for picking her, they’ve known each other at least since 2016.
The relationship between the two began in earnest shortly after Faessel was elected to his seat on the Anaheim City Council in 2016. At that time, Campos-Kurtz was district director for Tom Daly, a state Assemblyman whose area encompassed a large chunk of Anaheim. One of her tasks was to do outreach to the councilman.
Things began to blossom when Campos-Kurtz joined the Board of Directors of Anaheim Beautiful in 2017, a non-profit organization whose core membership appears to consist of upper-middle class homeowners, some of whom have had ties to other groups like Support our Anaheim Resort and the now-defunct Anaheim First.
Not only has Faessel been a strong supporter of Anaheim Beautiful, but his wife has been an active participant in their activities:”Susan supports … Anaheim Beautiful programs such as Green Ribbon Week, Neighborhood Clean Up, Memorial Tree and Holiday Lights Tour,” according to the Anaheim High School Alumni Association website.
There is no doubt Campos-Kurtz’s involvement with Anaheim Beautiful’s board has benefited them. For example, in two messages posted on Facebook and Twitter in 2019 and 2021, it appears she was instrumental in boosting political support for that non-profit’s activities, including a scholarship program and a holiday lights award ceremony.
In direct response to a question The Investigator emailed to Campos-Kurtz about her relationship with Faessel, she quite frankly admitted to us what we already suspected based on evidence gathered during our own probe: that she had been friends with the councilman for several years now, though mostly in an official capacity.
“I met the councilmember soon after he was first elected to council as a result of responsibilities while working for then Assemblymember Tom Daly,” she told us last Friday. “Over the years I’ve met up with the councilmember (and his wife) at several community events, organization luncheons/dinners, city meetings and events.”
For matter of record, The Investigator does not dispute that Campos-Kurtz is qualified to be a councilwoman. But decisions to appoint someone to a vacant seat aren’t made at a city council meeting alone. They are based on pre-existing relationships formed over years of interactions. Faessel may deny it, but that’s one reason why he nominated her.
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.
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, SOARspent 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.
The job offer was set into motion shortly after Valencia sent out an email to James Vanderpool, the city manager, on Monday, July 26, 2021, expressing that he “would like to hire Dr. Tina Arias Miller as a Senior Policy Aide…. Dr. Miller will be working about 6-7 hours a week. Her hourly compensation will be $31.00 an hour.”
Valencia’s email to the city manager.
Documents The Investigator acquired from the City of Anaheim show that Miller worked for Valencia less than a year. A human resources action report notes she was hired on August 16, 2021. And her last day on the job was March 31, 2022, according to the final Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests that she filed.
However, it’s unclear what Miller did for the councilman that warranted her higher pay grade. For example, The Investigator carefully reviewed his calendar during the several months he employed her and though she was sent to a few city meetings, she appears to have spent most of her time doing tasks that lesser-paid council aides do.
But most importantly, Valencia took steps to ensure the public never knew he had hired her. At no time did he ever list Miller’s name on his homepage on the city website. And despite the fact she had an official email address, she was apparently told not to use it to send messages, enabling her to elude detection from public records act requests.
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 OfficerMike 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 leaders who helped get him elected.
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.
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.
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 councilmanhad 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 emailthat 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 802Valencia filed for each big donor, personal friend, and union leader 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.
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.”
Besides being a political consultant, Rafiei also happens to be the co-founder of WeCann, a company based near downtown Santa Anathat 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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. Ourlatest investigation into whothe 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.
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.
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 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.”
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
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 Investigatorplans 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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