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City of Commerce Paid $210,000 to a Multi-Level Marketing Salesperson to Negotiate Cannabis Applications


 

Total is now $400,000 to contractors who have no experience in the cannabis industry

 

BY BRIAN HEWS • Oct. 11, 2019

Last week, Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News exclusively reported on the city of Commerce paying $190,000 to Renea Ferell, a former grant writer who earned 84,000 for the city of Compton, to “negotiate cannabis licenses” for the City.

The HMG-LCCN report found that Ferell’s company Klimt Consulting did not have a company website or a Facebook account, and that the Twitter account associated with the company was created in June of this year with no tweets or followers.

In addition, Ferrel was found to have an extremely suspect past while working for Compton, with one article reporting that Ferrel was placed on administrative leave for the questionable use of a Compton city credit card.

Ferrel did not return several phone calls for comment.

Now HMG-LCCN has discovered another highly questionable consulting agreement related to the cannabis license process in Commerce, additional evidence that the cannabis cash scheme pushed by Commerce Mayor John Soria, Mayor pro tem Ivan Altamirano, and Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo is still moving full speed ahead.

The agreement, signed in May 2018 while Rebollo was Mayor, was between the City and EJMA Planning and Consulting, owned by Ebony McGee Andersen.

   


According to her Facebook page, Andersen’s owns EJMA but also remains a representative selling jewelry for two Amway-style multi-level marketing pyramid scheme firms called Younique and Chloe.

Andersen’s personal Facebook page listing two MLM firms as current employment. (Click to view larger image).

It is unknown if Andersen negotiated her MLM poistions into the contract.

The California Secretary of State’s website indicates that EJMA was incorporated in April 2018,  only one month prior to the award of the contract, with a mailing address of 7349 Milliken Ave 140-259 in Rancho Cucamonga.

Similar to Renea Ferrel and her company, EJMA’s Milliken address was a P.O. box inside a Post Arena franchise store. 

Similar to Ferrel, EJMA’s Twitter account cannot be found, and the company’s Facebook page does not any posts.

 
 

Andersen’s company Facebook page without a single post.

 

EJMA’s five page website does not have any clients listed and is absent the usual team member bio page.

The last post on Andersen’s Instagram was four weeks ago and had nothing to do with Commerce or cannabis licenses, with a majority of her posts over 51 weeks old, once again not related to Commerce.

Despite the obvious lack of qualifications, Andersen was hired by the majority, led by Mayor Rebollo, her contract labelled “Professional Services” to bypass public contract bidding laws. 

And the lack of qualifications would become painfully obvious during the application selection process.

The application process for cannabis licenses was devised by Andersen and involved several categories, each assigned a point value, for a total of twenty points.

Some of the categories included industry experience, business and operations plan, community involvement, and monetary donations to community organizations.

According to several attorneys who spoke at public comment, the City only gave applicants one week to submit applications, although that was later disputed by Andersen; the deadline was Friday Oct 26.

Beginning Oct. 29, Andersen and her team somehow managed to analyze 45 cannabis applications that were 30 pages in length in twelve working days, presenting her results at the Nov. 13, 2018 regular City Council meeting, 

And the results were a clunky twenty minute presentation in which she appeared nervous and made corrections to several parts of the supporting documents before starting the presentation. 

Andersen ranked applicants by points awarded in each category, and also included if the applicant had secured a building lease in the City, using a widely-panned and confusing color-coding system to identify each category:

80% or more in points with a lease-              Red

80% or more in points without a lease-         White

Less than 80% in points with a lease-            Blue     

Less than 80% in points without a lease-       Orange

Andersen’s business inexperience was clearly evident during many portions of the presentation, including the points portion where she used wrong numeric symbols.

In one slide, Andersen used “80%+” for those applicants over 80%, but then used >80% for those applicants under 80%.

Application block slide, not the erroneous use of the “>” symbol.

The > symbol is used to signify “greater than,” Andersen should have used the < symbol to signify “less than.”

She would later be found to commit first grade level math errors in adding applicant points.

Towards the end, Andersen presented a precursor of the scathing criticism she would receive during public comment from applicants.

She included a slide with two letters – feedback from two (out of 45) applicants who testified to the “transparency of the selection process.”

“We did receive quite a bit of applicant feedback,” claimed Andersen, “these two letters have applicants who expressed appreciation for the process, they are very favorable of course, and mentioned how organized and efficient the whole process was.”

But that would be disputed by several applicants who spoke at public comment after her presentation.

Elliot Lewis, who has submitted 75 cannabis applications up and down the state, remains involved in 25 cannabis businesses and owns eleven cannabis facilities said, “this is the first time we have not made the 80% cut. I am having trouble understanding how I got zero points for my experience, and zero points for my qualifications and operations plan.”

“My operations plan has been submitted in Montebello and Bellflower and out of 38 applicants, we came in first.” 

Lewis finished, “we were originally scored an 11, but that was changed to 14. But if you did the math on our application scores, 2+4+4+3 is actually 13, they have 14 here on the application. This is yet another indication of the sloppiness of the process. My question to the secret committee that graded applications, how did I get those zeros? 

Michael Cherniss, attorney for another applicant, echoed the concerns of Lewis. 

“I was hoping to get clarification and transparency in the process. At the surface, it is hard to understand the scoring. My client fell below 80%, but we are unclear what that line means, it is not written down anywhere.”

The maximum score was 20, but, according to Cherniss, several applicants “got scores of over 20, scoring more than the maximum in individual categories.”

“It is hard to understand how you can score a 25 when the maximum score is twenty,” said Cherniss, “some got scores of 5 or 6 in a category when you were only supposed to get 2, 3 or 4. I would love an explanation of how people could get more points than available.” 

Attorney Raza Lawrence’ firm of Margolin and Lawrence, who “represents several clients up and down the state,” once again echoed concerns about the scoring and transparency.

“It was unclear what the red and blue blocks signified, the system seems to be arbitrary, and speaks to the lack of transparency.”

“Further, 16 out of 22 candidates who made it into the red block had only 72% of the points because they had more points than available in the certain categories.”

Carlos Camera “encountered discrepancies in ranking and scoring and wanted clarification,” further stating, “there were no clear guidelines on the scoring.”

“Bruce” spoke for Lotus, LLC and complained about the “one week long application period.”

“Seems like a lot of the comments speak to the lack of notice to residents and the lack of transparency in a process that was hastily created.”

Councilman Leonard Mendoza, who, according to several witnesses, was assaulted by Mayor pro tem Ivan Altamirano at the Contract Cities Convention in May of this year, the assault rumored to have been motivated by Mendoza’s anti-cannabis stance, did not mince words during Council comment.

“A lot of explaining must occur tonight. This application process is not transparent. In addition, the community has felt they have not been heard. A big majority of residents have not been heard. They [the proponents] say they got 800 signatures to approve cannabis, we don’t know where they came from. I know I was lied to by one woman [signature gatherer] and another would not identify who they worked for. The majority Council here [Soria, Altamirano, and Rebollo] is not brave enough to let it come to a vote, let this issue come to a vote.”

Emails through EJMA’s website and calls to the phone number on the website – directed to Andersen – were not returned.

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