California governor pledges state oversight for cities, counties lagging on solving homelessness

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Nearly $200 million in grant money will go to California cities and counties to move homeless people from encampments into housing, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday while also pledging increased oversight of efforts by local governments to reduce homelessness.

Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

The Democratic governor said he will move 22 state personnel from a housing enforcement unit to help cities and counties deliver on projects to reduce homelessness — and to crack down if they do not. He also said local governments will have to plan to build new housing for homeless residents or face potential legal action from the attorney general’s office.

“I’m not interested in funding failure any longer,” he said at a virtual news conference. “Encampments, what’s happening on the streets, has to be a top priority. People have to see and feel the progress and the change. And if they’re not, or counties are turning their back … I’m not interested in continuing the status quo.”

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scathing state audit released last week found that despite allocating $24 billion to tackle homelessness over the past five years, California has done little to track whether all that spending actually improved the situation. Newsom said the cities and counties that receive the money have to produce more data.

An estimated 171,000 people are homeless in California, a number that has grown despite massive investment by the state. Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco who was elected governor in 2018, has made homelessness and housing twin priorities of his administration, including a novel plan to purchase and convert motels into housing for homeless people.

Under his watch, California has cracked down on local governments that refuse to plan for and build more housing as required by state law. Details were thin Thursday, but Newsom said a housing accountability unit within the California Department of Housing and Community Development will now tackle homelessness spending.

Newsom has repeatedly hammered a message of accountability, telling local officials to think bigger about ways to attack the crisis. In 2022, he paused $1 billion of state spending for local governments, saying their plans to reduce homelessness were “simply unacceptable.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan found guilty in sprawling City Hall corruption case

A jury delivered a swift and decisive judgment in a federal corruption case targeting former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, finding Wednesday that Chan secured bribes for himself and for former Councilmember Jose Huizar as part of a sprawling pay-to-play scheme.

Within a few hours, the jury found Chan guilty on 12 of 12 counts — racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and giving false statements to investigators — in a case focused on financial benefits provided by real estate developers with projects in Huizar’s district.

U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said Chan, 67, used his leadership role at City Hall to “favor corrupt individuals and companies willing to play dirty” to win approval of downtown high-rises. Residents of Los Angeles, Estrada said, deserved “much better.”

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“With today’s verdict, we send a strong message that the public will not stand for corruption and that pay-to-play politics has no place in our community,” he said in a statement.

Chan worked for the city for more than three decades, much of it at the Department of Building and Safety, where he ascended to the top job. In 2016, he was hired by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti to serve as deputy mayor over economic development, supervising the Planning Department, Building and Safety, and other city agencies. He held that job for slightly more than a year.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 10.

Chan’s attorney, John Hanusz, said his client will be filing an appeal. Throughout the trial, he argued that Chan was not part of the criminal enterprise led by Huizar, who was recently sentenced to 13 years in prison on racketeering and tax evasion charges.

Huizar admitted last year that he received a wide array of bribes and other benefits from downtown developers, including gambling chips at casinos, flights on private jets, campaign contributions, luxury hotel stays, concert tickets and services from prostitutes.

“This case was, and always has been, about Jose Huizar,” Hanusz said.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors portrayed Chan as a crucial intermediary between Huizar, who wielded huge power over downtown development projects, and Chinese real estate developers.

In one particular scheme, prosecutors said, Chan helped Huizar secretly settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former aide. Billionaire Wei Huang, owner of the Chinese development company Shen Zhen New World I, provided Huizar with $600,000 in collateral that allowed Huizar to secure a bank loan and pay off the aide, they said.

Shen Zhen, owner of the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, later proposed a 77-story skyscraper that drew support from Huizar. The settlement money arrived at a crucial moment for the Eastside council member, who was running for reelection and facing a potentially formidable challenge from veteran former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

That settlement payment, FBI Special Agent Andrew Civetti testified earlier this week, “was at the heart of this investigation.”

At that time, Huizar feared the sexual harassment case would end his career, prosecution witnesses said. The source of the settlement money, kept secret during Huizar’s 2015 victorious reelection campaign, did not become public until five years later, after the first set of charges were filed in the Huizar investigation.

Wednesday’s guilty verdict also encompassed Chan’s dealings with another Chinese developer who sought to redevelop the Luxe Hotel, across from the L.A. Live entertainment complex. Prosecutors said Chan, while working for the city, helped set up a company that took the developer, Shenzhen Hazens, on as a client.

While working as deputy mayor, prosecutors said, Chan worked to line up support for the Luxe project. Former Planning Commission President David Ambroz testified last week that Chan pressured him to support the Luxe project during a one-on-one meeting away from City Hall — and sounded more like a “hired gun” for the project than a deputy mayor.

After leaving city employment, Chan received payment from the developer for his work moving the project through the city approval process, prosecutors said.

“He set himself up for a big payday … once he left the city,” said Asst. U.S. Atty. Cassie Palmer during closing arguments Tuesday.

The jury also found Chan guilty of helping secure a bribe from Shenzhen Hazens — a commitment of a $100,000 campaign contribution to support a bid for City Council by Huizar’s wife, Richelle Huizar. She later dropped out of the race.

Prosecutors said the push to elect Huizar’s wife was designed to help participants in the criminal enterprise, including Chan and Huizar, retain their power over downtown development.

Lawyers for Chan repeatedly sought to undermine the government’s case, saying that key prosecution witnesses had lied to FBI agents during the investigation and should not be deemed credible. Those witnesses later pleaded guilty and are hoping for leniency at their sentencings, the defense team said.

Yet another prosecution witness, businessman Andy Wang, has never been arrested or charged, even though he provided cash in envelopes to former Councilmember Mitchell Englander inside casino bathrooms, the defense team said.

Englander was sentenced in 2021 to 14 months in prison for lying to federal authorities about his dealings with Wang, who provided him $15,000 in secret payments, as well as an expensive night in Las Vegas.

Chan, while working closely with developers, was motivated not by greed but by a desire to make L.A. more business-friendly, Hanusz said. While Huizar and his associates accepted flights to Las Vegas, gambling chips, lavish hotel accommodations and escort services, Chan received none of those things, he said.

“There was no quid pro quo in this case with Ray Chan,” Hanusz told the jury. “With Jose Huizar, there absolutely was.”

Chan is the last defendant charged in the City Hall pay-to-play investigation — dubbed “Casino Loyale” by the federal government due to Huizar’s frequent Las Vegas trips — to go on trial.

George Esparza, Huizar’s onetime aide, pleaded guilty in 2020 to racketeering conspiracy but has not yet been sentenced. He testified against Chan, as did real estate consultant George Chiang, who worked with Chan and also pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

Shen Zhen New World I, the company that proposed the 77-story tower, was convicted in 2022 of providing Huizar a vast array of bribes. A judge later fined the company $4 million. Its owner, Wei Huang, fled the country and is now a fugitive, according to the Department of Justice.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Corruption at the Capitol? Gov. Newsom Exempts Billionaire Buddy from Fast Food $20 Minimum Wage Law

Give a donation, Get an exemption: This is what corruption in plain sight looks like

Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California Governor Gavin Newsom exempted a billionaire buddy from California’s new $20 minimum wage law. Billionaire Greg Flynn owns more than two dozen Panera Bread locations in California, as well as Applebee’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s.

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How did the billionaire boys club governor do this? He had it written right into AB 1228 by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Los Angeles):

Fast food restaurant” shall not include an establishment that on September 15, 2023, operates a bakery that produces for sale on the establishment’s premises bread, as defined under Part 136 of Subchapter B of Chapter I of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, so long as it continues to operate such a bakery. This exemption applies only where the establishment produces for sale bread as a stand-alone menu item, and does not apply if the bread is available for sale solely as part of another menu item. (emphasis the Globe)

Here is the actual section AB 1228:

Bloomberg Law reported Wednesday:

Billionaire Greg Flynn, who made his fortune running one of the world’s largest restaurant franchise operations, is getting a new boost from sourdough loaves and brioche buns.

That’s because a California law that’s about to raise the state minimum wage at fast-food spots to $20 an hour from $16 offers an unusual exemption for chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item.

Governor Gavin Newsom pushed for that break, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the main beneficiaries is Flynn, a longtime Newsom donor whose California holdings include two dozen Panera Bread locations.

Give a donation, get an exemption? This is what corruption in plain sight looks like.

Bloomberg News reported that Flynn attended the same high school as Newsom, and has been involved in various business dealings with Gov. Newsom.

Flynn has also contributed at least $164,800 to Newsom’s political campaigns, the New York Post reported.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Missing Money in Anaheim? Visit Anaheim CEO Resigns After Allegations of Rerouting Tax Dollars

Jay Burress, CEO and President of Visit Anaheim, has resigned amid allegations he helped divert $1.5 million in tax dollars to an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce-controlled nonprofit in the midst of one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit Orange County. 

Christina Dawson, senior vice president of operations for Visit Anaheim – the local tourism bureau – confirmed Thursday that Burress resigned last week and a search to replace him as president and CEO is ongoing.

She declined to comment further.

Mike Lyster, a city spokesperson, said in a Wednesday email the city has not been updated about Visit Anaheim when asked about Burress’ resignation.

“We have not received any notification or update regarding Visit Anaheim,” he wrote.

After publication Thursday, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said in a text message she couldn’t comment on the resignation since she hadn’t been contacted by Visit Anaheim about the issue.

Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.

The rest of the city council did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Alleged Criminal Conspiracy 

In a 353-page corruption report released at the end of July, independent investigators – with decades of law enforcement experience – alleged Visit Anaheim took $1.5 million of the $6.5 million COVID bailout they were given by the city council and sent the money to a Chamber of Commerce controlled nonprofit. 

The money Anaheim gave the tourism bureau in March 2020 was from the city’s general fund and was later backfilled by federal COVID bailout money.

Investigators say Burress was part of a conspiracy to divert the money allegedly concocted by former Mayor Harry Sidhu and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, both of whom have pleaded guilty to multiple federal crimes.

“The facts showed that then-Mayor Sidhu directed Burress to divert $1.5 million to the Anaheim Chamber’s controlled nonprofit and that Ament instructed Burress to report, if asked about the $1.5 million, that it came from other reserve funds,” investigators wrote. 

“This cover story was created in order to provide some sort of plausible deniability for the unlawful diversion of this $1.5 million,” reads their report.

In September, Sidhu pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about attempting to ram the Angel Stadium sale through for $1 million in campaign support from the team. 

In July 2022, Ament pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges.  

Burress’ name is mentioned nearly 120 times in the corruption report, and investigators say he admitted he completely fabricated the $6.5 million figure the organization said it needed to survive the pandemic. 

Sidhu spearheaded the bailout in March 2020 so Visit Anaheim could book conventions and advertise the Disneyland resort area at a time when the local tourism industry was shut down indefinitely. 

Disneyland would be closed for more than a year.

[ReadAnaheim Council Funds $6.5 Million Bailout To Advertise Disneyland Resort Area]

At the time, former City Manager Chris Zapata objected to Sidhu’s plan saying they should loan them the money instead.

Zapata was fired by Sidhu’s council majority shortly afterwards.

State Auditor Eyes Visit Anaheim

Weeks after the corruption report was released on July 31, State Auditor Grant Parks launched an investigation into Visit Anaheim’s finances at the request of Assemblyman Avelino Valencia, a former city councilman.

[Read: State Auditors to Probe Anaheim’s Rerouting of Federal Funds to Chamber of Commerce]

That audit is expected to be released this winter, according to the auditor’s website.

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of OC

Chula Vista council member, brother plead not guilty to felony fraud charges

Chula Vista Councilmember Andrea Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas, founder of a political consulting firm that has helped elect many officials across San Diego County, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple felony charges.

The siblings entered their pleas during an arraignment in San Diego Superior Court.

The pair are accused of defrauding the U.S. government in February 2021 — two months after the first-term council member was elected — of $176,227 in COVID-19 relief funds provided to Grassroots Resources, the firm Jesus Cardenas started and that employed his sister.

Specifically, the Cardenases allegedly falsified their application for the money by claiming that more than two dozen people who worked at a separate cannabis dispensary were employers of Grassroots Resources. According to a criminal complaint District Attorney Summer Stephan filed last week, they then laundered tens of thousands of dollars to pay off credit card bills and Andrea Cardenas’ campaign debt, and used the money for personal expenses.

They also conspired, prosecutors say, with “another person and persons whose identity is unknown.”

“We charge the defendants in this case with multiple felony counts related to the misuse of public funds,” said Chandelle Boyce, deputy district attorney.

The arraignment lasted less than 10 minutes. Andrea Cardenas is represented by criminal defense attorney Pedro Bernal and Jesus Cardenas by criminal defense lawyer Fernanda Ezquerro, who said it is typical that each person has their own counsel “to avoid any appearance of impropriety or undue influence between themselves.” Ezquerro said it is too early to consider separating the case in two.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after the Cardenases left, Bernal said both parties have yet to receive evidence and exchange information that may be used in future proceedings. Andrea Cardenas does not plan to relinquish her City Council seat, he said.

“She plans on fighting these charges,” Bernal said. “So we plan to review the evidence in the case and fight as much as we can.”

Thursday’s arraignment comes after mounting calls for her resignation. Various boards on which she serves have started discussing what ramifications the allegations may have.

Chula Vista Mayor John McCann and Deputy Mayor Jose Preciado issued statements Monday, saying their council colleague should step down to maintain public trust.

The San Diego Association of Governments, the regional planning agency on which Andrea Cardenas serves as a board member representing Chula Vista, may soon hold a public discussion about her ability to continue in that role. And the San Diego County Democratic Party will reconsider its31-15 vote endorsing her re-election campaign.

Andrea Cardenas said Monday the District Attorney’s Office notified her and her brother of the charges the day they were filed.But they had learned of the details of the allegations only through local media outlets. She also said that as “we move forward in this process, I hope to be given an opportunity by the media, folks in political circles, and, most importantly, my constituents to defend myself.”

If convicted of all charges, Andrea Cardenas, 31, could receive up to five years and eight months in state prison. She faces two additional counts of failing to file tax returns besides five other counts she faces with her brother. Jesus Cardenas, 40, faces up to four years and four months in custody.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

How Many Legal Wrenches Can Santa Ana’s Recall Election Take? 

Santa Ana’s police union-backed City Council members won’t unstrap themselves from an imminent, police union-driven recall election that the county has officially decertified. 

Not only did County of Orange elections officials find – at the 11th hour – that they and recall petitioners used the wrong electoral map to gather and verify signatures and mail ballots to residents, but the county has since rescinded its certificate of the recall’s signatures entirely.

Yet the seat of City Councilmember Jessie Lopez – a vocal police union critic – seems headed for a Nov. 14 special election anyway, one costing more than $600,000 out of the city’s public purse.

It’s putting City Hall at odds with the OC Registrar of Voters, with both looking to the other for guidance on the issue.

The police union has already spent nearly half a million dollars in their campaign to unseat Lopez, which, if successful, would be the second time they’ve ousted an elected official who challenged officer salaries and the union’s political grip, since the turn of the decade.

Now it may be up to a judge to decide whether an election should proceed without the say of nearly 1,200 residents who should have received a mail ballot for this election but did not.

“That’s why we’re taking this corrupt recall to court,” announced Lopez in a campaign email asking for donations from supporters on Tuesday.

If Lopez is unseated, her replacement would only hold office for a year before the seat again goes up for grabs in the November 2024 presidential election. 

The situation comes after three police union-backed City Council members – Phil Bacerra, David Penaloza and Mayor Valerie Amezcua – refused to cancel the election at a Monday night special meeting, despite OC Registrar of Voters Bob Page’s office raising serious validity issues in an Oct. 26 letter to City Hall.

Page’s letter states that police union recall petitioners gathered voters’ signatures for an election based on the current map of Lopez’s ward, instead of the prior boundaries that existed when she was elected, before the ward was redistricted.

On top of that, in closed door discussions before council members took their vote on Monday night, City Hall’s top attorney, Sonia Carvalho, advised council members to rescind the city’s own certification of the recall, according to remarks from the dais by Council Member Johnathan Ryan Hernandez.

Instead, council members on Monday deadlocked.

Meaning:

“The Registrar of Voters will continue to conduct the recall election using the current map of Ward 3 until we receive new direction from the City to use the 2020 map of Ward 3. The City Clerk is the elections official for the election. The Registrar of Voters provides election services at the direction of the City and the City Clerk,” Page wrote in a Tuesday email.

Above is a map of Santa Ana voters who should be voting in the Nov. 14 recall election but were not mailed ballots. Credit: Provided by the OC Registrar of Voters

In an Oct. 27 letter responding to Page’s original notice, city officials asked for more guidance from county officials. 

“The City should not be left alone in deciding how to proceed, based on the error, regardless of who is responsible for it,” Carvahlo wrote

The county’s top attorney, Leon Page, responded that the county is relying on direction from the city.

Recall organizers and police union-backed council members have criticized Page’s office for recognizing the error so late in the game.

Page said he noticed the issue after receiving an email from the Kings County Registrar of Voters “asking other county elections officials in the state for advice regarding a recall effort involving school district officials elected before and after redistricting.”

“This request prompted me to re-examine how we reviewed the Ward 3 recall petition and are administering the recall election pursuant to the request of the City of Santa Ana,” Page said in an email.

In light of the 11th hour controversy, Page added that his office has “started to review our procedures and checklists to identify opportunities to improve how we support city clerks.”

On Monday, Page signed a “superseding” certificate rescinding the one he issued on July 17 – first reported by freelance journalist Ben Camacho – which originally determined enough valid signatures from voters in Lopez’s ward to move forward with the election. 

The following day, in a Facebook post, Councilmember Penaloza said he no longer endorsed the recall campaign.

In his post, Penaloza echoed police union-backed colleagues’ remarks on Monday, that council members shouldn’t be the ones to cancel the election. 

“The integrity of our elections is way too important and sacred for politicians to be the ones who decide whether an election currently taking place gets canceled or not, especially after many Santa Ana residents have already cast their votes. That is not a decision that I should be the one to have to make.”

Yet Page has said his elections office depends on the City Council’s direction on how to proceed.

Requests for comment from council members Phil Bacerra and Valerie Amezcua went unreturned on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, OC Supervisor and former Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmieneto publicly questioned the integrity of the police union recall.

“The Santa Ana City Council had the opportunity to do the right thing,” said Sarmiento during supervisors’ regular meeting. “The rules are that when a person is going to be recalled, they should be recalled by those same voters that voted you in.”

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of OC

Former Anaheim Mayor Sidhu Agrees to Plea Deal for Federal Corruption Charges

Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has agreed to plead guilty to four federal charges, capping a years-long federal investigation into alleged corruption that led to his resignation and torpedoed the city’s $320 million sale of Angel Stadium.

In a deal announced Wednesday, Aug. 16, Sidhu will plead guilty to obstruction of justice, wire fraud, false statement to the Federal Aviation Administration and false statement to the FBI.

“Mr. Sidhu was elected by and pledged to work for the residents of Anaheim, but he violated that pledge and their trust on numerous occasions to look out for special interests,” Donald Alway, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles field office, said in a statement. “Mr. Sidhu deceived his colleagues and weakened the city’s official strategy by divulging intellectual property, then lied to the government when his corruption was discovered.”

In a statement Wednesday, Sidhu’s attorney Paul S. Meyer said, “Former Mayor Sidhu appreciates the thorough and fair investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office leading to a resolution in this matter.”

The total maximum sentence for all the offenses for which Sidhu has agreed to plea to is up to 50 years in prison, according to the agreement. He will next need to enter his plea in court and his actual sentencing is up to a judge at a later date and could be significantly shorter.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed that if the court imposes a prison term of no less than 30 months, it would waive its right to appeal the sentence.

The agreement comes two weeks after an independent city-commissioned investigation was released providing new details for how Sidhu and allies appear to have gone unchecked in City Hall dealings.

During the city’s negotiations to sell Angel Stadium to team owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership, Sidhu sought to become a member of the city’s negotiating team and then provided “confidential inside information belonging to the city” to former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament and to a consultant working for the Angels, “so that the Angels could buy Angel Stadium on terms beneficial to the Angels,” according to the plea agreement.

In 2019, Sidhu had also provided a confidential appraisal range related to Angel Stadium to Ament to give to the Angels before that figure was public, according to the plea agreement.

Sidhu was secretly recorded several months later saying he expected to ask for a $1 million campaign contribution toward his reelection from the Angels if they succeeded in buying the stadium, the plea agreement says. In an interview with FBI agents on May 12, 2022, days before the FBI’s investigation became public, Sidhu lied to the agents about expecting “nothing” from the Angels after the stadium deal closed, according to the plea agreement. Prosecutors also said Sidhu “falsely” told investigators that he did not recall providing stadium sale information during the negotiations.

Sidhu resigned in May 2022 following the revelation that the FBI was investigating the former mayor and the $320 million stadium deal was scuttled by the City Council.

Angels Organization spokesperson Marie Garvey said, “It is important to note both the plea agreement along with the city’s investigation showed no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Angels Organization.”

Ament’s attorneys, Joshua Robbins and Andrew Selesnick of Buchalter law firm, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The FBI’s investigation was underway since at least 2019, according to an affidavit filed last year in support of a request for search warrants that included information investigators said was gleaned from wiretaps and intercepted emails.

The plea agreement gives details about how Sidhu attempted to not pay California sales tax for a used helicopter he purchased for $205,000. He had registered the helicopter using a mailing address in Scottsdale, Arizona, to avoid paying $15,887 in taxes. The helicopter was stored in Chino.

Sidhu has already paid back the taxes, according to the plea agreement.

He also provided false information to the FAA when he submitted the Arizona mailing address as his own, the agreement says. The mailing address belonged to an unnamed Anaheim businessperson.

Sidhu and his attorneys signed the plea agreement on Monday, Aug. 14.

For the obstruction of justice charge, Sidhu would admit that he destroyed multiple email messages and documents “with the intent to impede the FBI’s investigation of public corruption surrounding the city’s potential sale of Angel Stadium,” according to the plea agreement.

One of the emails deleted was related to the Angel Stadium deal, which had “confidential negotiation information,” including issues around the price and terms, the plea agreement says.

The document, drafted by attorneys for the city,  included a section about parking and how it affected the value of land, the agreement says, and gave the example of how the team could “eliminate the requirement that they maintain at least 12,500 parking spaces so upon closing they could immediately amend the lease to limit their parking obligation and then flip the land for millions more than they paid for it.”

“Reducing their parking obligation by 4,000 spaces would translate to $64 million in increased land value,” according to the document referenced in the plea agreement.

Prosecutors said Sidhu told investigators he did not conduct city business using his personal email.

Also in the plea agreement are details about planning for mock council meeting sessions in advance of the council’s vote on the Angel Stadium sale.

Sidhu had deleted an email about the sessions that used personal addresses for him, two other unnamed council members and other city staff, the agreement says. Sidhu would purposely conduct city business using his personal email and communicate with some city staff’s personal email addresses as well, prosecutors said.

The deleted email, according to the agreement, said the prep sessions would include the then-mayor pro tem, another council member, the city’s chief communications officer, another city staffer, the unnamed Angels consultant, Ament, the president of the Angels and an attorney for the Angels.

The practice meeting would be held in three sessions, according to the agreement’s description, during which participants would debate the strengths, pitfalls and vulnerabilities of the stadium deal. The Angels team would develop what the agreement called “zingers,” responses and other points to improve the participants’ performance.

It appeared the mock meetings were intended be a dress rehearsal for the real one.

In strongly worded comments Wednesday, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said she was appalled by the alleged collusion between Sidhu, former council members and the Angels organization.

“If the allegations surrounding the Angels organization setting up a shadow council meeting are true, I don’t think the negotiations were in good faith and I would like to look into that,” Aitken said.

The Angels were supposed to be at arm’s length during the negotiations, Aitken said, and any future talks would have to be more transparent and with more community participation.

Overall, Aitken said Sidhu’s plea agreement unveiled just the “tip of the iceberg” of the problems with the city and further confirmed the need for reform.

She said the city also needs stronger restrictions and better enforcement to harness campaign financing and lobbyists who have run unfettered at City Hall.

“We need to make sure our policies are in line with other cities our size,” said Aitken.

In a city statement late Wednesday, a city spokesman said, “We are aware of and are reviewing the plea agreement, which reflects what was a challenging time for Anaheim. We look forward to our City Council’s ongoing consideration of reforms to protect our city and keep moving forward.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Alameda DA’s office Hired Pamela Price’s Boyfriend, Raising Nepotism Concerns

OAKLAND — The office of Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price hired her boyfriend for a six-figure salary, despite a past that includes allegations he extorted Richmond business owners for tens of thousands of dollars — a claim that drew the attention of the FBI.

Antwon Cloird joined Price’s team at the beginning of her administration, occupying an office at her headquarters as a “senior program specialist” whose responsibilities the county declined to detail.

Good government groups have long criticized Alameda County for not having a clear nepotism policy, and the lack of rules surrounding the hiring of a romantic partner seems to have benefited Price and Cloird. County officials told this news organization they could not find any documents showing Price voluntarily notified them of the potential conflict of interest.

The couple’s relationship has been an open secret at work, raising the eyebrows of colleagues. And his time in Richmond has brought its own concerns.

Emails obtained by this news organization highlight those concerns. They show that in 2015, Richmond’s mayor, city manager and police chief suspected Cloird, at the time a politically connected nonprofit executive, of shaking down businesses to the tune of $5,000 to $20,000.

Around that time, the FBI began investigating Cloird’s dealings in the city, according to emails and a sworn affidavit filed by an attorney claiming to be an FBI informant in a lawsuit that quoted Cloird as saying “you gots to pay to play” in Richmond. Cloird ultimately was not charged.

Since her historic victory in November, Price has faced heightened scrutiny — and now a budding recall effort — for seeking to recast how justice is dispensed across the East Bay.

Now, the hiring of Cloird has brought questions about her workplace ethics.

“I see so many problems with it. I see problems with conflict of interest. I see a problem with nepotism. I see a problem with lack of transparency. It’s problematic in every way I look at it,” said retired Santa Clara County Judge and former San Jose Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell. “In public government, you don’t do this. There’s no way in my view to justify this.”

From the start, at least one member of Price’s top administration worried about the optics of Price hiring Cloird.

“I begged not for it to happen, only from a communications standpoint,” said Ryan LaLonde, Price’s top spokesperson until he resigned barely two months into her tenure. “I was like: How do I stand steadfast with someone having their significant other working in the office, and we’re talking about wanting to clean up the office from past improprieties?”

But LaLonde added that if the pair “weren’t dating, he’d be qualified enough to have the job.”

Cloird publicly acknowledged their relationship at his birthday celebration earlier this year at the Richmond Country Club, calling Price “the love of my life,” while she clutched his arm and said, “I’m blushing.”

“It takes a strong woman to deal with a strong man, and a strong man to deal with a strong woman,” said Cloird, in a video posted to YouTube. “I ain’t weak now. I’ll tell you, Pamela has stood for me through everything I’d done on my journey, and I’ve stood with her.”

Price’s office on Friday did not address specific questions about Cloird’s hiring or their relationship but called him “a valued member of the team whose distinguished work and accomplishments in communities throughout the Bay Area are well documented.”

“Cloird, who has overcome so much adversity in his own life, is a testament to what an individual can achieve and contribute to the health and well-being of fellow community members,” said a statement sent by Price’s spokesperson, Patti Lee. Cloird did not respond to a list of questions sent to him.

Alameda County, which came under fire in a 2013 Civil Grand Jury report for lacking nepotism policies, continues to lack such ethics rules a decade later. The issue has arisen before: Price’s predecessor, Nancy O’Malley, also employed relatives. O’Malley’s sister worked as a senior program specialist in her administration, while her nephew worked as a prosecutor, under both O’Malley and Price, staff rosters show.

The human resources department said there’s no record that Price or Cloird notified the department of their relationship, nor is there any policy requiring them to do so.

When asked to provide a description of his job, the agency offered a generic job listing for a county senior program specialist but it included no details specific to work within the district attorney’s office. The agency declined to provide his resume, CV or job application, claiming they were confidential.

But the county HR agency did confirm Cloird’s base pay: $115,502 a year, just shy of the top end of what someone in that position can make. As of Dec. 31, there were five senior program specialist positions in the DA’s office.

What is known about Cloird’s work over the past seven months is that it is centered in the field of re-entry for incarcerated people. Former Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Erin Loback, who worked closely with Cloird until recently joining the San Francisco DA’s office, said he helped identify candidates for early release and assess their readiness to rejoin society. Cloird presented her with lists of people he wanted to see let out of prison, an unorthodox practice that broke from the unit’s traditional process, Loback said.

“I was afraid to speak up about anything,” said Loback, who said she grew suspicious of names on Cloird’s list because he offered vague explanations when pressed about where they came from. “There was no one I could go to, to say, ‘What is this?’ I couldn’t question it, because of his relationship with her.”

Price’s office said a team of lawyers makes resentencing and re-entry decisions, not Cloird. The mission of the units is to reduce recidivism, the statement said.

Before joining the DA’s office, Cloird worked as Price’s campaign manager after spending years as a street-level activist in Richmond. He was a regular presence at City Council meetings, organized job fairs, ran Thanksgiving turkey drives and community softball games, and helped the city’s homeless population.

His redemption as an ex-offender who turned his life around from the days he was known as “29 Seconds” — a nickname he earned on the streets for getting whatever you needed within that time — was chronicled in this newspaper more than a decade ago, as part of a “Hometown Heroes” profile series.

Cloird started a nonprofit called Men and Women of Purpose that helped convicts readjust to society outside of prison, and he sat on Contra Costa County’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Advisory Board. His supporters say he’s no stranger to the task that Price has assigned him.

“You need someone who has lived that experience and who has come out of that experience,” said Rev. Andre Shumake, who has known Cloird for more than 50 years and worked together on prison re-entry issues. “So Antwon, in essence, is a symbol of hope.”

By 2015, however, his reputation took a turn.

Concerns arose of a possible “shakedown” by Cloird of a company that was moving to a new location in the city of Richmond, according to obtained city emails.

For a $5,000 fee, Cloird allegedly told the Golden Gate Meat Company’s owner that he could “expedite” permits sought by the meat packing company, according to an email then-Mayor Tom Butt sent to then-City Manager Bill Lindsay.

A few months later, the owner of a Peruvian restaurant relayed to Butt that Cloird had asked for $20,000 to “facilitate” a conditional use permit to open the new eatery with a liquor license in the Pacific East Mall, another city email shows. Attempts to reach the restaurant owner were not successful and the meat company owner declined to comment for this story.

The restaurant owner appeared resigned to paying Cloird, telling Butt that “otherwise he will bring a bunch of people to speak against it,” the email said.

“I don’t know if this is illegal or not, but it doesn’t make our city look good when businesses feel they have to pay someone off to get a permit,” Butt wrote to the city manager, police chief and planning and development manager.

To Butt’s eyes, “essentially, he is paying protection money,” another of the emails said.

“I will be following up with the FBI about this,” added then-Chief Chris Magnus, in another message.

It remains unclear what became of that inquiry, but one email shows that an FBI agent requested a meeting with Butt and Magnus. Magnus, now Washington D.C.’s deputy auditor for public safety, declined to comment for this story.

Reached by this news organization, Butt lamented the reported shakedowns, saying that it  “diminishes the confidence that people have in doing business in the city.”

A year later, in 2016, three businesses – all marijuana dispensaries – became the subject of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleging that they hired Cloird and other Richmond influencers to drum up opposition to an incoming fourth dispensary. The alleged conspirators’ goal: monopolize the marijuana market to keep prices fixed abnormally high, the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit by Richmond Compassionate Care Collective included bombshell allegations that Cloird sought to pay off Richmond City Council members for their votes on the proposed dispensary. In the process, Cloird was said to have leaned on the collective’s attorney for payoffs, the lawsuit said, while other court documents show he allegedly said that “you gots to pay to play” in Richmond.

The attorney suing those other dispensaries claimed in a court filing sworn under penalty of perjury to have been an FBI informant at a time when federal investigators were looking into corruption on Richmond’s City Council. Cloird and another community member were also subjects of that investigation, the attorney claimed.

In 2022, a nearly-$20 million judgment was entered against multiple defendants in that lawsuit, although by then Cloird successfully argued to have his name removed as a defendant in the lawsuit, after arguing the lawsuit failed to prove a conspiracy between Cloird and the other defendants under the state’s Cartwright Act, which prohibits agreements to restrain competition or fix prices.

By that time, Cloird had moved on to other ventures. Around 2018, Cloird appears to have stepped away from his nonprofit, federal tax records show. He took a position that year to help Price run her first campaign for district attorney. That same year, Price listed income between $10,001 and $100,000 for work at Cloird’s nonprofit, according to state financial records she filed that year.

The pair are now working out of an East Oakland branch of the DA’s office, where Price moved her administration months after taking office.

In interviews, one ethics expert said while politicians often hire well-qualified campaign staff members, transparency is paramount, especially for district attorneys.

“Lawyers are bound to uphold professional responsibilities — uphold the rule of law — and one of the core responsibilities that lawyers have is avoiding conflicts of interest,” said Scott Cummings, a UCLA law professor specializing in ethics.

Another ethics scholar called the top prosecutor’s hiring of her boyfriend “surprising,” because it raises the question of whether a public official is “feathering their own friends or family members’ financial situation.”

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

The Miraculously Changing Narrative Around Biden’s Involvement in Hunter Inc.

The media are committed to defending the first family, no matter what facts emerge.

Rarely have newsrooms committed so much effort to protecting men of such little character.

As recently as just four years ago, the New York Times and other news outlets would have jumped at the chance to investigate allegations that the president and his son operated an influence-peddling operation involving foreign nationals. Every editor at every major newsroom would be barking at his staff right now, demanding that they look into whether the president’s son had, in fact, leveraged the family name in return for huge sums of cash, whether the president got a cut of the action, and whether the president himself coordinated quid pro quos with well-heeled foreign interests.

But that was then. Now, there’s a Democrat in the Oval Office. For major media, most especially the New York Times, there’s not much value to the Biden family corruption story, which alleges President Joe Biden conspired with his son, Hunter, to rake in mountains of cash from foreign entities in return for certain preferred policies toward their countries. After all, according to the Times, the story is old news. It’s also none of your damn business.

Last week, after yet another fact emerged suggesting that Joe Biden had indeed been involved to some degree with his son’s overseas business dealings, contrary to what he himself stated unequivocally during the 2020 presidential election, the New York Times ran to the president’s aid with the classic “old news!” defense.

“It has long been known that the elder Mr. Biden at times interacted with his son’s business partners,” the paper of record declared on Monday.

Is that so? This thing Joe Biden vigorously denied in the 2020 election has “long been known”?

Recall that Biden declared in the 2020 election, “I have never discussed, with my son or my brother or with anyone else, anything having to do with their businesses. Period.”

“And what I will do is the same thing we did in our administration,” he added. “There will be an absolute wall between personal and private [business interests] and the government. There wasn’t any hint of scandal at all when we were there. And I’m going to propose the same kind of strict, strict rules. That’s why I never talked with my son or my brother or anyone else — even distant family — about their business interests. Period.”

That same year, during a campaign event in Iowa, Biden insisted again that he had never, ever spoken to his son about his business interests.

“I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings,” Biden said. “I know Trump deserves to be investigated. He is violating every basic norm of a president. You should be looking at Trump. . . . Everybody looked at [allegations that I spoke with Hunter about his overseas business activities] and everybody looked at it and said there is nothing there. Ask the right questions.”

Later, after it became increasingly likely that Joe Biden had, in fact, interacted with his son’s business partners, the White House amended, ever so slightly, the president’s earlier assurances.

“The answer remains the same,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in July. “The president was never in business with his son. I just don’t have anything else to add.”

Click here to read the full article in the National Review

Attempt to Change Anaheim Minimum Wage Special Election Date Denied

An Orange County judge on Wednesday, Aug. 2, denied an attempt to stop Anaheim from having its minimum wage special election from occurring on Oct. 3.

Unite Here Local 11, the proponents behind an initiative to raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour for hotel and event center workers in Anaheim, had sued the city for moving the special election on Measure A to Oct. 3.

They had asked the court to not allow the special election to happen on Oct. 3, arguing that the date didn’t comply with state election law. Orange County Superior Court Judge Nathan Scott issued the ruling.

Anaheim originally targeted Sept. 12 for the public vote, but formally called for the election on Oct. 3.

“We were confident in our action, and welcome the court’s determination,” city spokesperson Mike Lyster said in a statement. “This gives voters a chance to weigh in on an important matter with plenty of time to learn about the issue and make an informed decision.”

The special election will decide if the city should have a higher minimum wage for hotel and event centers workers than the state, as well as implement various workload restrictions.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register