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The SF Connection

Only known photo of "Uncle Jerry"

Only known photo of “Uncle Jerry”

Recently we wrote about State Senator Leland Yee’s arrest by the FBI on corruption and gun running charges. In a late-breaking revelation, we have discovered a Tustin Connection to Lee, also known as “Uncle Leland” and his chief proponent, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a known San Francisco gangland figure.

Yee, who was arrested last week, has been discovered to have orchestrated several trips to local restaurants in Tustin. The purpose of the trips were unclear but appear to have implicated local politicians in a web of money-laundering and political chicanery.

Notable in the affidavit used to issue the arrest warrant for Yee and others tied to the conspiracy was a reference on page 168 to a political “consultant” known in the document only as “Uncle Jerry”. The affidavit details meetings between Yee, “Shrimp Boy” and “Uncle Jerry” in a local teppan house to discuss an airsoft gunrunning operation run by “Uncle Jerry”. “Uncle Jerry ” proposed furnishing airsoft rifles and ammunition to Yee and his cohorts in exchange for becoming Yee’s chief houseboy from OC. The suspect has previously received awards from the Tustin City Council as an “agent of change” for his work toward rescuing abandoned Springer Spaniels and retraining them as lap dogs for the homeless. “Uncle Jerry” is also reported to have ties to the famous Hop Sing Tong operating as far north as Virginia City, Nevada.

A search warrant was reportedly served on the residence of the suspect who had been hiding his operation by claiming he breeds Springer Spaniel dogs in his garage. And, although the suspect has often been seen riding around in borrowed vintage vehicles with a brown and white dog on his lap, there are no reports by the city of Tustin for a kennel license. As added cover, his wife allegedly trains dogs in local parks. Again, no business license or other documentation has been provided by the city to verify this.

When agents searched the suspect’s home, they found several hundred high-end, automatic airsoft rifles and handguns with the orange tips removed. At least a hundred thousand rounds of ammunition were also located in dog crates with false bottoms. An OCFA Hazmat team and the OCSD bomb squad were called in to remove the pooh-covered weapons.

Another section of the affidavit detailing the Tustin operation revealed a connection to current city government officials. An undercover FBI informant allegedly met with a cohort and former colleague of “Uncle Jerry” on several occasions. Al “Starbucks” Murray allegedly had lattes and chocolate croissants with the suspects where “Uncle Jerry acted as an intermediary. The undercover informant, known only as “The Podiatrist”, does not specify what the conversation was about although he alleges several dollars and two rewards were transferred to Murray’s Gold Starbucks card after the meeting.

Yee has been released after posting a half million dollar bail. “Uncle Jerry” was reportedly arrested and offered $100 if he would choose to stay out of jail. His dog, however, was impounded and is being housed in protective custody at the Orange County Animal Shelter. Murray has not been charged.

We will keep you up to date as details become known. However, if you have not figured it out by now, perhaps you should look at the date and do not hold your breath for further information.

 

On (and Off) the City Council Agenda – February 18, 2014

LAA StadiumA hat tip to our friend, Dan Chmielewski, of The Liberal OC who related that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could someday become the Los Angeles Angels of Tustin. Hmmm, the name just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Anaheim Angels.

In any case, owner Arte Moreno’s mouthpiece claims they are in preliminary talks concerning a possible stadium at the MCAS base. The LA Times story, which Dan quotes from, says team officials met with Tustin officials last week concerning the deal. The team declined to say whether they met with other Orange County cities or not.

Don’t hold your breath if you think the Angels would land here. Their lease, which has an out clause beginning in 2016, is tenuous in Anaheim as the city has balked at the proffered deal that includes a giveaway of hundreds of millions in tax dollars and development fees. I doubt Moreno is likely to give Tustin any better deal and would expect a lot in return. I would consider this “leak” of information as a not-so-clever ploy by their negotiation consultants to put pressure on Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait.

Likewise, don’t expect anything to be said at the Tuesday Tustin City Council Meeting. There is no agenda item either on the Closed Session or Public Agenda. And, we have to wonder what part of the Brown Act covers discussions with baseball teams? It is a bit weird that a gentleman came to the last meeting to discuss the possibility of establishing a minor league baseball stadium and baseball camp. Maybe that was the cover story.

The Tustin City Council does have a fairly full agenda this week. You can tell it is spring as negotiation will begin with all of the major employee unions in the city. Tustin’s non-safety employees negotiations are handled by the Orange County Employees Association. It’s sad to see that, for the past several years, the employee unions have been willing to accept the City’s claim of poverty when dealing with them while they lavish raises and promotions on the executive managers. The union’s chief negotiator, Frank Flavin, is an experienced negotiator who, perhaps, they are not listening to when it comes to holding out for a better deal.

Discussion will also ensue over 4 items of property, all on the MCAS. We were told that the deal with the Army Reserve Center is not complete and there are some issues being haggled over. We think the deal is pretty good and will put the Army in a more suitable section of the development. Still, we have to wonder why they brought out the big guns, which were reportedly moved onto a parking lot near the District.

On the Public Meeting Agenda, TPD Officer Tim Carson will receive the MADD “Deuce” award. This award is given to law enforcement officers who make more than 25 DUI arrests in a year. We are proud of Officer Carson but sorry to see that we have so many drunk drivers in our midst.

The sole Public Hearing is an item held over from the previous meeting. It concerns a development agreement for 375 single family homes on the MCAS property. It is quite a large development and, while Councilwoman Beckie Gomez was probably not missed, John Nielsen was also AWOL and I am sure the Three Amigos needed another back to pat.

Most of the Consent Calendar consists of routine maintenance items. Items 6 & 7 stand out only because it raises an issue with cell towers. The two items have to do with communications site license agreements with T-Mobile and Cingular Wireless. The agreements are to continue running equipment at Tustin Sports Park. Our issue with licenses of this type is the cut the city’s cellular consultant, ATS Communications, receives for their services. The licenses, which terminate previous leases, allows for 20% of the proceeds to go to ATS for their “services”. Outside of promoting the interests of the various cellular companies, we’re not sure where they are earning their money. And, to allow that to go on ad finitum, is unconscionable.

Three items under Regular Business will wrap up the evening, unless someone decides to discuss their talks with the Los Angeles Angels coming to Tustin.

Item 9 – Purple Heart City Designation is a proposed resolution designating Tustin as a Purple Heart City that cares about it’s veterans who were wounded or killed. As I said in a recent post, this would seem a lot more sincere if the City were to seriously reach out to this city’s military history and veterans that made it. How about establishing a local veterans advisory commission that could work toward honoring the living and the dead?

Item 10 – Authorize Request for Deferral is a request to send a letter asking for a deferral of grant funds from Measure M2 for a detention basin and wetlands on the MCAS property. The delay is due in part to design issues. It would seem like a routine issue but, bureaucracy requires council approval.

Item 11 – Adopt Resolution ordering preparation of the Engineer’s Report. This is the annual levy of the Tustin Landscape and Lighting District. Another routine item that probably could have been placed on the consent calendar.

That’s it for the week. It is anyone’s guess if the city council will discuss the Angels meeting. Although the meeting should have been with City Manager Jeff Parker, I can’t see how Al Murray couldn’t drag himself away from his regular coffee cops morning to get a chance to hob nob with sports folks.

On The City Council Agenda – January 7, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartWelcome to a brand new year and the same old city council. I hope someone told the Podiatrist Councilman about the apparent change in the Agenda. The Closed Session, which normally begins at 5:30 pm, prior to the Open Session, has been moved to the end of the evening. It doesn’t appear to be a permanent change as the current Agenda says the Closed Session will resume it’s regular spot at 5:30 pm on the 21st.

After the usual Presentation of Colors by our friends at The American Legion Post 227, there is a presentation by the White Cane Society regarding Glaucoma Awareness Month.

The Consent Calendar hosts the usual mundane items that don’t usually warrant discussion. There should be a bid award to International Computing Systems of Buena Park for construction of the water element at Frontier Park. Past discussion on this item estimated the cost at $115,000. ICS came in with the lowest bid at $148,500. The money comes from Community Development Block Grant funding and the extra amount was secured by staff. This may warrant discussion so that staff can explain how funds that were previously allocated were supplemented. If this is a reallocation of funds from other projects, there may be a problem.

Another construction project on the Consent Calendar is the Warner Avenue and Armstrong Avenue Extensions that will connect Redhill, Tustin Ranch and Barranca Parkway near the District. The projects are ready to bid, although it isn’t clear how this will affect or be affected by the Army’s refusal to give up their current Reserve Center site as the city has been trying to talk them into the past year or so.

An item that definitely deserves discussion, even at this early date, is the jet fuel pipeline construction listed in Item 5 of the Consent Calendar. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners is proposing to construct a 5 mile long pipeline through south Tustin to connect existing pipelines to John Wayne Airport.

The city had quite a bit to say about the proposal. The construction would extend from a connection point at Edinger Avenue and Tustin Ranch Road and head roughly south on Redhill Avenue near the airport. The construction consists of motor-operated valves and the pipeline.

City staff have reviewed the project and prepared a letter concerning the Initial Study. Most of the issues appear to be based on assumptions from the company concerning the construction hours and location of equipment storage. Staff have also asked for a public outreach campaign to affected residents and businesses to keep them informed of the project. A sound idea, in our opinion.

As the Initial Study was just issued, it doesn’t look as if this project is looming to close to the horizon. Hopefully staff will continue to demand diligence from the parties involved. Oh, and in case you are worried about the sudden appearance of jet fuel in your backyard from seeping pipelines, several have crisscrossed Tustin over the years without problems.

Still, a little discussion from the city council informing the citizens of this project couldn’t hurt.

Of the two items under Regular Business, the Mayoral Appointments to Committees prove the most interesting.

Of the thirteen seats on committees, boards and agencies up for grabs, only five net the councilmen any cash or benefits (we won’t include lunch or dinner in these). And, coincidentally, those five seats will continue with the 2013 appointments:

  • Foothill /Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency ($120 p/meeting, 18 meetings per quarter) Puckett/Murray
  • Orange County Fire Authority ($100 p/meeting, 12 meetings per year) Murray/Puckett
  • Orange County Sanitation District ($100 p/meeting, Up to 6 meetings per month) Nielsen/Bernstein
  • Orange County Vector Control ($100p/meeting, 12 meetings a year ) Bernstein
  • SCAG Southern California Assocation of Governments ($120 p/meeting, up to 6 meetings per month) Nielsen

Thrown in as a bone for her good behavior, Beckie Gomez picks up an alternate spot on the Newport Bay Watershed Executive Committee to go with her 4 other non-paid appointments. And, while this may not be a paid seat, it is one of the more important ones in the county.

You can see all the appointments for the various seats here. If anyone thinks being an unpaid councilman is easy (or, in some cases, free) they should take a close look at this.

We did notice an apparent discrepancy on the official Form 806 the city is required to turn in to the state. The form lists John Nielsen and Chuck Puckett as the OC Sanitation Nielsen Town Hall MeetingDistrict Representatives with a stipend of $100 per meeting. Yet, the Orange County Sanitation District website shows board stipends to be $212.50 per meeting plus mileage. Considering our councilmembers like to tout their “free” service, it is a pretty blatant error.

John Nielsen, fulfilling his role as OCSD board member, was paid nearly $5,000 for his participation on the board in 2012, the most recent full year reported by the OCSD. He is, by no means, the most highly paid either. That honor goes to Councilman John Anderson of Yorba Linda who made $12,301 dollars for his contribution to the cause. Not bad for a part-time job. Anderson, you may recall, was the subject of a failed recall attempt after the city council voted to oust their city PD in favor of the OCSD. I wonder how that would play out here?

Nonetheless, you can see that the city council, despite voters nixing salaries and benefits last year, can be a lucrative position. That’s, of course, if you are willing to play ball with the council majority. For the past few years, Beckie Gomez has been given seats on boards without stipends. Likewise, Deborah Gavello, as the arch nemesis of John Nielsen and former councilman Jerry Amante, was given no worthwhile appointments, paid or otherwise.

That’s it for the upcoming city council meeting. We will do our best to report back any worthy information we glean from the meeting. Thanks for reading.

On the Agenda – December 17, 2013

boring meetingAs with the past few meetings of the Tustin City Council, the topic of business licenses will take up a good portion of what should be the last meeting of the year.

The city council will be asked to decide if and how information related to gross receipts are received by the city. Gross receipts are used in many businesses to calculate the business license fees. Currently, businesses are required to offer proof of gross receipts in the form of a redacted tax return that protects any personal information from being disseminated through public records access. The average fee is $60.00

One of the proposals is to establish a flat fee of $100 for a business license. This would eliminate the requirement to supply tax information altogether and, on its face, appears to be a good alternative.

The third option, which I am sure Councilman Nielsen prefers, is to rely on the good word of the business owner to simply state how much his or her gross receipts are. The staff report points out the glaring problem with this alternative. Obviously, it would require a periodic audit to ensure businesses are telling the truth.

Nielsen, of course, would prefer this method because he is all for anything that protects businesses from the prying eyes of government. By doing so, he proves allegiance to his patrons at the various business councils and real estate associations that have funneled tens thousands of dollars through sham PACs into his and his fellow councilmens’ campaign coffers.

In reality, it is probably time the city looked at raising rates anyway. In the recent past, the city has foregone license and new construction fees to foster a business climate. I suspect most cities in Orange County have moved or are moving toward a modification in fees to increase funds coming into the city coffers. Making everyone pay the same fee, regardless of the value of the business, though, seems a bit unfair. The old system has worked fine and it seems Nielsen is the only one to complain.

In other business, the city council will be asked to approve the publication and appointment (or re-appointment) process for several city commissions seats. Seats open include 2 each on the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions.

Both Jeff Thompson and rookie commissioner Sam Altowaiji seats are up this term. I would be surprised if either were to leave now. Jeff is the old salt on the commission, having served several terms. Jeff has a history of community service including Chair of the OCTA Citizens Advisory Committee which advises OCTA on transportation issues.

Altowaiji, who worked for the city before he joined the board, is likely Elizabeth Binsack’s eyes and ears on the commission. However, he was also the only person to run (the only  other guy was disqualified) and could potentially be unseated by another (any other) qualified candidate. We have one in mind but he is keeping mum on whether he will run for a seat..

The final item under regular business is consideration of an ordinance establishing a formal purchasing process, something that is long overdue in a city the size of Tustin. Not that we are accusing anyone of misfeasance. On the contrary, city staff, other than the occassional bonehead move by a department head, are pretty thrifty with our dollars. A formalized purchasing process will keep it that way.

That’s it for city council business this week and for this year (unless someone calls a “special” meeting). The next time the city council meets, it will be to ring in the new year. We hope the Christmas Spirit envelopes the dais (except for the Podiatrist Councilman – a belated Happy Channukah) and they all come back with a sense of renewed community spirit.