Blog Archives

The Feds Take A Turn At County Slapdown

blazing-saddles-355Hot on the heels of a scathing grand jury report and the announcement of an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission, the FBI announced Wednesday, they have created a task force to investigate corruption here in Orange County. The earlier probe stems from management issues with CalOptima, the county’s low income health system for the poor.

Earlier this year, the Grand Jury issued two reports highly critical of the Board of Supervisor’s mismanagement of the CalOptima system. Supervisor Janet Nguyen, along with others, has been accused of conflict of interest and ethical breaches.

On June 18th, Supervisors lashed out at the Grand Jury, saying it was not their job to publicly embarrass the county. Supervisor John Moorlach, in one of his typical misconceptions, stated, “Your here to help us, not embarrass us nationally.” Todd Spitzer, who will eventually run for district attorney, went as far to say that their is no corruption in Orange County. The Board then moved to cut the grand jury stipend in apparent retaliation.

As it turns out, the FBI formed the task force in April, about the same time as the FPPC announced its own investigation. The FBI, which has a permanent anti-corruption unit, said they typically form a task force to focus on specific issues. According to the Voice of OC report, the task force consists of agents from the FBI, the IRS and other agencies, bringing in experts in all fields. In other words, they form a task force when a small, boutique investigatory unit just won’t do.

This is not the first time the county has undergone investigation by the Feds. The FBI was involved in investigations during the 1994 bankruptcy as well as the more recent witness tampering charges that brought down former OC Sheriff Mike Carona, who is serving a 6 year sentence in Colorado. That investigation revealed widespread corruption in the upper ranks of the sheriffs department.

The formation of the task force highlights the ethical woes of the county. And, although it may seem the task force is pointed at the Board of Supervisors, other elected and former officials of cities and special districts would do well to watch themselves. The FBI has a tendency to cast a wide net when it is looking for information. Typically, during an investigation of this type, other deeds of mismanagement on the peripheral of the investigation are brought into the light and reviewed.

Coming to mind are the charges brought by the Grand Jury last year against our own Jerry Amante, accusing him and another councilman from Laguna of misusing their official positions with their cities to interfere with Brandman University officials. Although the city of Tustin made an official response to the report, as required by law, they never actually denied the charges. Rather, they stated the Grand Jury got it all wrong and, even if there was a misuse of power, the city could hardly be held accountable for what two renegade councilmen did on their own time.

The rhetoric got so bad, self-appointed and well-respected watchdog, Shirley Grindle actually fired off a letter to the Register saying the two officials owed Smoller of Brandmand University a “huge apology for their unethical behavior.” She said they should then resign in disgrace.

So, while the conservative Republicans of this town continue to be incensed at the thought of their dirty laundry coming to light, it looks like the FBI has gladly set up shop in their back yard to eke out corruption. While I expect much of the work to be done in secrecy, one can expect an investigation of this size will bring out a wide variety of players in county politics. Don’t be surprised to find the fickle finger of fate pointed at a variety of folks, both public and private. Coming to mind are those behind the well funded smear campaigns against Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram that brought in hidden money from local contractors we suspect do business with the city.

Denial is one thing. But, our city fathers may have to prove it this time. And no amount of ranting on the dais will keep the FBI from their task.

Are Business Interests Trying to Buy the Tustin City Council?

TRU (Tustin Resdidents United) is NRI (No Residents Involved)

I’m sure it was only select households that received the latest mudslinging campaign literature from that ominous non-organization known as, “Tustin Residents United”. As we previously established, TRU has nothing to do with the residents of Tustin and plenty to do with the business interests who are desperate to maintain control of the Tustin City Council. The prize, of course, is the Tustin MCAS property and other lucrative business opportunities in Tustin such as the infiltration of our parks by AT&T. If John Nielsen, Jerry Amante and their up and coming cronies have it their way, the prize will go to their business friends, many of whom paid for the privilege of future votes through their direct and indirect contributions to campaign funds and, so-called, independent expenditure PACs.

The hit pieces, which carry a reported cost of nearly $20,000, have largely been funded by the Orange County Business Council through their BIZPAC (we’re small potatoes… they’ve laundered nearly $80k in the Anaheim City Council race).  Interestingly, the Orange County Jobs Coalition, which has the same Los Angeles address as BIZPAC has sunk another $25,000 into the hate mail campaign against Worley-Waldram. Orange County Firefighters Association, a strong supporter of Nielsen, by the way, unloaded $7,000 into TRU as a way to support their candidate who, I am sure, signed the Scott Baugh manifesto that says, thou shalt not take union money. So much for that promise as well. Finally, we have the OC Taxpayers Association, a veritable who’s who of wealthy Republican business leaders in Orange County, who donated another $10,000 to the cause. That’s (I’m willing to do the math for you) $50,000 of big business money coming into the Team Tustin campaign. Not one dime has been contributed by a “resident”. Of that money, roughly half has been spent in hate mail literature that has bombarded your mailbox the past two weeks. With another week to go and more than $25,000 left in their warchest, expect a last minute onslaught of hate mail to come your way from TRU. Do you think John is worried?

He appears to have outdone “Physician” Allan Bernstein in the fundraising department as he recently received a huge contribution of $5,000 from the Committee for Improved Public Policy. With previous contributions, they have donated $7,000 to his campaign. Of course, this is the same shill organization that donated heavily to Jerry Amante and his failed campaign for the Assembly.

The good news is, the latest hit pieces only regurgitate the same, tired story that Waldram is a “union man” bankrolled by a wealthy patron who likes to sue the city. And it’s true. Waldram will proudly tell you himself, he is a public school teacher (did he teach John’s kids?) and his “wealthy benefactor” is Tustin Unified School Board member, Lynn (no e) Davis, who voted along with the rest of the board to sue the City when they attempted to flex their power. It also regurgitates Tracy’s minor faux pas with the FPPC that was resolved to the state’s satisfaction. So, they still have no smoking gun, no epiphany (and you would think John would have had one, moving to that new church in Newport Beach).

While Team Tustin has chosen to fight a dirty campaign through the thinly veiled “Tustin Residents United”, the other two candidates have refused to engage them. For their part, Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram are sticking to the pledge they signed to run a clean and fair campaign. Their latest mailer, which is scheduled to come out this week, is probably the strongest statement against Team Tustin they are likely to muster and I give them kudos for that.

It is less than a week before E-Day. Many of you, I know, have already voted by mail. Hopefully, you did so uninfluenced by the plethora of hate mail that has hit your mailbox. For those old school voters who, like us, will be trudging their way to the precinct to cast their vote, I say, read the back of the latest and probably last Worley-Waldram mailer. It speaks volumes in just a few words.

Oh, and if you need help with the vote, check out our endorsements page which outlines our picks for candidates and measures.

Team Tustin Continues to Sling Mud

Team Tustin is at it again, slinging tons of mud at their percieved enemies while hoping some of it will stick. The name was adopted by Tustin City Candidates John Nielsen, Allan Bernstein and Chuck Puckett to show they are united in their campaign for the three Tustin City Council  seats up for grabs in November. The “Team” recently debuted new yard signs around town, showing the three in ballot format with check marks next to their names.

Last week, a mailer denigrating opposing candidates Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram was mailed to Tustin Voters along with another mailer touting Team Tustin’s virtues. Both mailers came from a shadowy organization with the homey name of Tustin Residents United. We wrote about that piece here and showed the organization is merely a shill for the Orange County Business Council who, through OCBIZPAC, donated $10,000 dollars to TRU. They were the only donors to the organization, who shares an accounting address with Nielsen, Bernstein and Puckett. So, even though the mailer has the standard disclaimer about independent expenditures, it doesn’t take too much to connect the dots and see where this came from. If you need a pointer, however, just check Nielsen’s website which lists his many business endorsements and his fiancial forms which show large numbers of business donors.

The Team is apparently pretty worried about Worley-Hagen and Waldram, however. Two more hit pieces were sent to Tustin voters this week. The first one was a general mailer to all households, aimed at Tracy Worley-Hagen, and is full of the typical half-truths and outright lies one expects to find in a hit piece. In speaking with Worley-Hagen about the allegations, she says two of the allegations concerning dinners were cleared with the FPPC as an oversight in accounting. She corrected the paperwork and paid a small fine.  All councilmembers are given “police like” badges, so we don’t know where that came from. Perhaps Nielsen can explain it because he has probably been issued at least one as well. Oh, and did he return his councilman’s badge when he received his mayor’s badge? We’re betting not.

The other hit piece was apparently mailed only to Tustin Republicans and included the “Liberal Agenda” of the Worley-Waldram team. The piece likens them to the Obama administration and calls Waldram a public employee union member. Waldram is a union member and a public employee – with the Tustin Unified School District. His benefactor, as they call it in the mailer, is Tustin Unified School District Board Member, Lynn Davis. Davis is called out as being behind multi-million dollar lawsuits against the city. I suppose that is true, as he has probably voted in the lawsuits between the city and the school district over grading and the Heritage School property.

For their part, Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram are running a clean campaign and have refused to engage “Team Tustin” in their mudslinging tactics. Both are running on a fiscally conservative platform and a promise to bring sanity and civility back to the city council dais. That is something we would like to see and something Nielsen, Bernstein and Puckett don’t seem to be interested in.

The good news is, you only have ten days before the elections and the end of the political scheming for another couple of years.

Mudslinging at Tammany Hall Tustin

I was originally going to title this piece, “Thug Politics is Alive and Well in Tustin” but Brenda McCune over at OC Political beat me to it. So. I had to come up with some catchy title of my own. In any case, if you  live in Tustin, you know what I am talking about.

Is it coincidental that almost all of the political hit pieces go out from the post office on the same day? The hit piece McCune complained about in her article, was sent the same time as hit pieces in Tustin and many other cities. Quite frankly, I thought Nielsen and “Team Tustin” as they call themselves, might forgo this bit of juvenile politics and actually run a clean campaign that would extol the virtues of the candidates. After all, Nielsen claims he signed the Code of Fair Campaign Practices.We are not sure when he did that but, according to the City Clerk’s office, only two people signed the pledge and Nielsen was not among them. Even if he signed the CFCP in a previous race, he is being as disingenuous with the voters as when he leads them to believe he is a happily married man. But, you’ll have to ask Erin Nielsen about that.

Instead, we got a mailer that, at first glance, makes you think it is from opposition candidates, Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram. It has their names boldly in yellow against a black background and a picture of them to the side. All of the allegations made in the mailer are either stretches or outright lies. It is not very damning, to say the least.

In a response to the hit piece, Tracy Worley-Hagen issued a response denying all of the allegations. From her website:

All of these allegations are untrue.  These are simply desperate measures by desperate people who are desperately trying to hold onto their last shreds of power.  I continue my pledge to the people of Tustin to run a clean campaign and, should I be re-elected, to represent them with honesty, transparency and civility.

The most serious allegation against Worley-Hagen is one of political corruption. We asked her about it and she said, “I amended my forms in 2005 to correct a simple accounting error regarding 2 dinners and payed a nominal fine, similar to when someone makes a mistake on their income tax returns. Once the FPPC received my corrected forms and payment they immediately issued a statement of resolution.”

Wow. That’s some corruption. Of course, the mailer makes it seem like much more than that.

David Waldram has not responded to the piece. However, there was little they could say about him, beyond being accused of being a puppet for Worly-Hagen. The most the two of them have done together is to hold joint fundraisers throughout the city. He has continuously maintained an independent view and, in fact, does run a business out of his home. The two of them are running together on a platform of bringing back civility to Tustin politicss. His “full-time government employee” status is that of a public school teacher at Tustin High School. In fact, he teaches government classes. Most public teachers I know are full-time government employees. So, there is no shocking revelation there.

I have to tell you that, if this is the best “Team Tustin” could do, they are hurting for any dirt on the opposition campaign. And, they are not coming up with much. And, although Nielsen, Puckett and Bernstein will readily disavow themselves of any knowledge of the flyer, it does not take much to put two and two together.

First, unlike Worley-Waldram, there have been no other independent expenditures for campaign literature for this race. The anti Worley-Waldram piece was accompanied by another piece extolling the virtues of the “Team Tustin” candidates.

John Nielsen is touted as a strong fiscal conservative. But, the facts speak for themselves. He fully supports the lawsuits between the city and school district, placing the blame and resolution squarely with the district. He also forgets to mention that the council he sits on voted to bring multiple, frivolous lawsuits against the school district in response to their sole lawsuit. Let’s not forget he, along with Jerry Amante, also voted themselves high end Apple iPads that were paid from reserve funds. Oh, yeah, and didn’t John help balance the last two or three budgets by dipping into those same reserves?

Voters who received the mailers may notice something else. Both the Worley-Waldram hit piece and the “Team Tustin” mailer were sent from the same organization, Tustin Residents United, which lists a private post office box in Tustin as their headquarters address. No physical address and no actual location or staff. That’s because there really is no Tustin Residents United. It is a sham organization set up, apparently, by a political accountant with ties to “Team Tustin” to make independent expenditures for candidates at their behest. These types of expenditures are not supposed to be controlled or discussed with the candidates. Is that what really happened here?

Tustin Residents United, like any campaign organization, is required to fill out a Form 460 advising contributions taken in and expended either as contributions to or on behalf of political candidates. TRU’s only income for the past reporting cycle is from the Orange County Business Council’s BIZPAC who donated $10,000. In the same reporting period, they paid $250.00 for accounting services to Barrett Garcia and $1500 to Powers Communications to Support John Nielsen.  OCBC is a lobbying organization for the business community. And, you might note on Nielsen’s website that most of his endorsements come from the business community, both those in Tustin and those that (hope to) do business in Tustin. This is on top of those businesses that would not lend their name but would happily hand out cash to fund his campaign.

It’s also interesting that Tustin Residents United, which obviously has nothing to do with residents, shows an address of record on the Form 460 in San Juan Capistrano, rather than the post office box in Tustin. Guess what the address of the accountant Barrett Garcia is? Yes, the exact same address. Barrett Garcia is a well-known accountant in political circles. The company also does political accounting for Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein, so you can see the direct connection between “Team Tustin” and Tustin Residents United. It isn’t much of a reach to see who really controls this so-called independent expenditure political action committee.

For Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram’s part, they appear to be running a clean campaign. Their mailer was a simple two-sided affair that pledged fiscal responsibility and to restore civility to the circus that has become de rigueur at Tustin City Council meetings. They have both signed the fair campaign pledge and appear to be sticking to it. This hit piece, along with the recent theft of campaign lawn signs by an anti-Worley-Waldram zealot, shows the concern “Team Tustin” has over the campaign. Even the bastion of Orange County journalism, the Register, refused to endorse Bernstein, saying Worley-Waldram had more experience and would serve the public better. As we have said, Bernstein, who bills himself as a “physician” when he is a podiatrist, should heal himself from foot-in-mouth disease as he honestly believes that city councilmembers actually have some say in school district board elections.

I’ve been watching a new show on TV called, “Copper”. It’s about New York City during the Tammany Hall era. The most recent show had folks buying votes with drinks, having them vote multiple times for dead people and beat down voters at the poll who dare to vote for the opposition. The thug politics of the era are alive and well in the city of Tustin.