Big money in little city

 

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Some people I talked to, both on and off the record, said that they were surprised that Rosemead Mayor John Tran has raised $100,000 for a local race. Tran says that he has done so because of his surprise two years ago that Wal-Mart contributed so much to back former Councilman Jay Imperial and Councilman Gary Taylor during a recall election.

“The last time I ran, Wal-Mart contributed over $400,000 to a local election and taht was an eye-opener. I want to make sure I have enough funds to get my point across,” Tran told me on Friday.

(As far as any speculation goes about Tran raising money for the Assembly, that can be put to rest right now, Tran said. He is now just focusing on the city council race, as well as on his family.)

Here’s my story that ran today:

Mayor outpaces all others in money for City Council race
By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 08/24/2008 07:07:36 AM PDT

ROSEMEAD – Mayor John Tran is leading the fundraising pack and has collected more than $100,000 for a City Council election that is seven months away, finance records show.

The city’s election will be held in March, and candidates will be vying for three open seats currently held by Tran, Councilwoman Margaret Clark and Councilman John Nuez.

Officials said they are surprised that Tran, who is seeking his second term on the council, has raised so much money so early.

“It’s outrageous,” said Clark. “We are a little city. It is outside money trying to buy power.”

Campaign finance records show that from January to June, Tran raised $102,218; Nuez raised $31,684; and Clark raised $1,969.

Also actively fundraising this period is Councilwoman Polly Low, whose seat is not up until 2011. She raised $37,407 this period.

Rosemead is a city of nearly 55,000 residents. Traditionally, candidates have raised no more than $50,000.

But a recall election in 2006 prompted by the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter heightened the bar for fundraising efforts.

During that race, Wal-Mart contributed nearly $400,000 to support the recall targets: Councilman Gary Taylor and former Councilman Jay Imperial.

Taylor and Imperial were not recalled.

Read more.

Developers and contributions in Rosemead

My weekend story will be about the campaign donation totals in Rosemead. Some of the commentors have asked where the money is coming from. I will develop a spreadsheet later in the day, but here are some of the numbers that pop:

 

 
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Friends of John Nunez: $31,684

-Garvey School School Board member Bob Bruesch is listed as Nunez’s treasurer on the campaign statement documents.

-Architect firm JWDA, which has done several buildings in Rosemead, donated $1,000.

-Valley Hotel, 8711 Balley Blvd., gave $2,500

-420 Boyd Street LLC, out of Los Angeles, gave $2,500

-Friends of John Tran donated $6,000

 

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Committee to Re-Elect Margaret Clark: $1,969

-Her largest donation came from Henri Pellissier, a retired Whittier resident, gave $1,000.

-Mike Lewis of Lewis and Company gave $244 worth of “publication supplies.” Lewis worked as a consultant to help get support for the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Polly Low for Rosemead: $37,407

-H Hai Tran, an Arcadia resident who is the director of Saigon National Bank, gave $3,000.

-420 Boyd Street, LLC, of Los Angeles, gave $3,000

-Si Ming Lau, a Pasadena resident who is self employed for Si Lau CPA Associates, gave $3,000.

-Paul Chauderson, a Rosemead resident who is self employed at Classic Tees, gave $3,000

-Stephen Lam, a former Monterey Park planning commissioner who resigned because of questions about his residency in the city, gave $1,000.

-Valley Hotel gave $2,000.

-JWDA, the architectual company, gave $1,000.

-Yan Huang, a Rowland Heights resident who is self employed for Huang Tax Service, gave $3,000.

-She also paid back a $5,000 loan from Friends of John Tran.

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Friends of John Tran: $100,218

-Tran may have raised 100 grand, but this period he also spent $58,913, including a $11,500 fundraising event in 888 Seafood Restaurant and a $7,500 donation to Foothill Unity Center for “children in need.”

- Pan Construction, at 1234 San Gabriel Blvd in Rosemead, gave $3,000

-Hotels Southern California in Arcadia gave $5,000.

-Eastern Investment Group out of Rosemead gave $3,000.

-Valley Hotel gave $3,000.

-CB Home, at 1732 S. Wesetern Ave. in Los Angeles, gave $3,000.

-TT Investment from Los Angeles (no address is given) gave $4,000.

-420 Boyd Street LLC, from 420 Boyd Street Los Angeles, gave $6,000.

-JWDA gave $1,000.

-Hieu Tai Tran gave $3,000.

-Connie Lam, the owner of Classic Tees, gave $5,000.

-Mike Truong, owner of Kingfish Trading Inc, gave $3,000.

-Dana Denh Voong, a real estate broker out of Arcadia, gave $3,000.

-Polly Low for Rosemead gave Tran $5,000.

Rosemead Partners Political Action Committee: $1,349

-Largest contribution came from Councilman Gary Taylor, who gave $500

-Lewis and Company gave $150.

DA not finished with Thrasher yet

The District Attorney’s office has filed a notice of appeal on the Carlos Thrasher case.

More to come next week.

In the meantime, here’s a story from a few months ago:

Charges against ex-official dismissed
Whittier Daily News, The (CA) – April 8, 2008
Author/Byline: Dan Abendschein, Staff Writer
Section: News

POMONA – A judge dismissed charges of perjury and conflict of interest Tuesday against a former West Covina planning commissioner.

Carlos Thrasher ‘s trial was scheduled to start Tuesday, but Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley granted a defense motion to throw out the case.

Kevin McDermott, Thrasher ‘s attorney, said the prosecution had no case because it could not show Thrasher intended to deceive the public by not disclosing a debt to local developer Ziad Alhassen.

“I could see if we were talking about a political committee fining him,” McDermott said. “But when you are talking about perjury, you need to show the person was clearly advised ahead of time, and deliberately ignored that advice.”

Deputy District Attorney Jonlyn Callahan did not return calls requesting comment.

Thrasher , a local businessman and Iraq War veteran, was accused of failing to disclose that he owed money to Alhassen before a vote on one of Alhassen’s development projects.

He had received a letter from West Covina city attorneys advising him that the $17,166 debt he owed Alhassen did not qualify as a loan, which would have required disclosure. The City Council later approved, in a 4-1 vote, paying for Thrasher ‘s legal fees.

Councilman Steve Herfert, who has long supported Thrasher , said despite the dismissal, the victory is bittersweet.

“All those cases were a lot of waste of time and money,” Herfert said.

He added that Thrasher should never have been charged in the first place.

McDermott said he thought it was a strong possibility that the county would appeal the case to state court.

Thrasher owed the money as back rent for an office he was renting from Alhassen. Thrasher had left the country to serve in Iraq but still was using the office, according to Alhassen’s testimony in the preliminary hearing. Thrasher signed a promissory note agreeing to repay the debt to Alhassen at the rate of $500 a month, records show.

The complaint about Thrasher ‘s lack of disclosure came from Alhassen’s attorney, after Alhassen’s South Hills Homes Partnership requested a time extension to build a gated community in a cul-de-sac known as Inspiration Point.

Thrasher voted against the extension, as did the rest of the planning commission. Alhassen brought the matter directly to the City Council, which voted 3-1 against the extension.

Alhassen testified at the preliminary hearing that the decision cost him millions of dollars. He said on Tuesday that he had no comment on the dismissal.

West Covina has had sometimes contentious relations with Alhassen, who has had extensive development deals with West Covina’s redevelopment agency.

In 2006, the city filed a lawsuit against Alhassen alleging that he was in breach of contract over a 1999 deal in which the city gave the developer $4.1 million to renovate his Clippinger Chevrolet dealership.

In exchange, the city said that Alhassen promised to provide $750,000 in sales tax revenues to the city, but shorted the city $198,000.

The city won the lawsuit, Alhassen appealed, and last month, his appeal was denied by a state appellate court.

Alhassen also countersued the city after the lawsuit, but that case also was thrown out.

After voting against an extension for Alhassen’s South Hills project, Herfert was investigated by the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division for a possible conflict of interest. Charges were never filed against him.

Herfert said he thought that Thrasher ‘s reputation had suffered as a result of the charges.

“He pretty much volunteered his time and ended up facing felony charges,” Herfert said. “It’s good the case was dismissed, but with that negative information out there it was hard for him in the community and running his business.”

dan.abendschein@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2105

Food for thought

I just saw this post from Jennifer McLain. And judging from all your comments, you guys are interested. So here are some facts to chew on:

Campaign contributions from Charles Co. Owner Arman Gabay for the last two years:


6/21/2007: Ernest Gutierrez $1,000 (El Monte)
10/26/2005: Ernest Gutierrez $1,000

9/18/2007: Juventino “J” Gomez $1,000 (El Monte)
11/01/2005: Juventino “J” Gomez $1,000


10/30/2007: John Solis $2,500 (La Puente)
11/17/2005: John Solis $2,000

6/7/2007: Louie Lujan $1,000 (La Puente)
7/2/2007: Louie Lujan $1,00

3/30/2007: Sherri Lane $999 (West Covina)
10/5/2005: Sherri Lane $200

1/8/2007: Steve Herfert $1,000 (West Covina)
7/25/2007: Steve Herfert $500
12/29/2005: Steve Herfert $1,000

11/2/2005: Marlen Garcia $2,500 (Baldwin Park)

11/2/2005: Manuel Lozano $2,500 (Baldwin Park)

11/2/2005: Anthony Bejarano $2,500 (Baldwin Park)

10/19/2007: Norma Lopez Reid $1,500 (Montebello)
7/13/2006: Norma Lopez Reid $1,250

Del Terra speaks out

A post I put up earlier about a “mysterious deal” in La Puente has sure hit a nerve with people.

Well, here are a few updates:

First of all, the story has been moved to run on Sunday.

Second of all, I spoke with Luis Rojas, CEO of Del Terra, on Tuesday and he had some interesting things to say about this deal.

Rojas told me Alliance Services Group is not a subsidy of Del Terra (even though a secretary who answered del Terra’s office line last week told me it was). Rojas said Alliance is owned by Virginia Campos, Rojas’ sister and partner at Del Terra. Still, Rojas was the negotiator on the deal between Alliance and Charles Co. owner Arman Gabay.

Interestingly, Rojas said Gabay approached them about getting assistance to seal a deal with La Puente, but around April the negotiations fell through.

Gabay sure made it sound like a different story at last week’s council meeting. Of course, he ain’t talking anymore cause of “potential litigation.”

Rojas said he knew nothing about the rumors or anything else.

He called it a “regular business transaction that never came to fruition.”

Something “doesn’t smell right”

 
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Here’s a sneak preview of a story we’re running next week out of La Puente.

It seems a mysterious contract is stirring up some serious drama, and forcing some officials to question whether those in City Hall are being influenced by outside consultants.

The entire debate surrounds a $400,000 consulting agreement proposed to the Charles Co. by Alliance Services Group.

The agreement, dated March, proposes that Alliance Services Group will provide services “to finalize the Development and Disposition Agreement” between the city and the Charles Co. in exchange for $400,000.

A DDA, in case you didn’t know, is basically a final contract between a city and a contractor for work. No backing out, essentially.

Alliance Services Group is a subsidy of Industry-based Del Terra Group, Inc., which in March, went up for a job to perform a citywide review of La Puente’s existing service contracts.

They dropped out of the running the night the council was slated to make their decision.

The council is divided on whether they believe someone in City Hall brokered the deal, though Councilman John Solis is sure someone did.

Councilwoman Lola Storing said she wants the DA and the city to look into it.

“It doesn’t smell right,” she said.

Look for the story next week.

La Verne is seeing orange

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That’s right, plans have been submitted to bring a Home Depot into the city.

If all goes through, it’ll be built on the site of the former Foothill Ford and the current Hyundai dealership.

As you might remember, the Foothill Ford shut down June 1 and at that time, dealership officials said they would be expanding the Hyundai dealership.

There’s obviously been a change of heart. We’re now hearing that another undisclosed dealership will be brought to the site in the next 60 days.

And regardless of whether the Home Depot goes in or not, those dealerships will likely be moving to more freeway accessible locations.

In the meantime, city officials say a Home Depot store typically brings in between $200,000 and $300,000 a year in sales tax revenue.

That’s a lot more than the estimated $100,000 yearly loss the city faces with Foothill Ford gone.

Bad Bisno-ess?

I’ve been working on this story about some of developer Robert Bisno’s business dealings for some time now. Well, it’s finally out in today’s paper.

The meat and potatoes are basically 1/4 into the story….

Here’s a little snapshot:

“He’s a very smooth crook,” said John T. Emanuele, a San Leandro resident who along with about a dozen other plaintiffs sued Bisno in 2007 over a business deal gone sour.

Emanuele’s suit stems from a Berkeley development project in the 1980s in which a group of investors accused Bisno of taking $453,000 in partnership money to purchase a private residence.

The case went to trial last year and a jury ruled in favor of the investors, said Richard Stratton, Emanuele’s attorney.

Bisno tried to appeal the case, Stratton said, but it was denied.

“He admitted in the trial that he (took the money) to cheat the government, to commit tax fraud,” Stratton said, “not to fraud the investors.”

Emanuele said he and the other partners believe Bisno never intended to pay back the misappropriated funds.

Bisno stands to pay more than $3.5 million in judgements to the remaining investors as a result of the suit, Stratton said.

I tried getting hold of the man himself — Mr. Bisno — last week, but I’m told he doesn’t talk to the media. That’s what John DeClercq is there for. DeClercq is Bisno Development’s vice president and chief operating officer. He argued none of Bisno’s personal litigation matters affect any of his development projects.

I should add, there’s a sidebar about special interest groups that goes along with the story.