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Commerce Mayor Sends Out City-Paid Press Release Defaming Hews Media Group

Mayor John Soria

STAFF REPORT

In the last few weeks, Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News exposed three Commerce officials, Mayor John Soria, Mayor pro tem Ivan Altamirano, and Council person Oralia Rebollo, and their involvement in a wide-ranging scheme to bring pot shops into the City.

 Although not illegal, the methods the three used to bring cannabis into Commerce have come into serious question.

Their efforts have occurred despite a group of residents gathering over 950 signatures to place a referendum on the March ballot to stop the opening of shops.

To put that into perspective, top winning candidates who run for City Council in Commerce rarely garner over 900 votes.

The signatures were confirmed by the Norwalk Registrar-Recorder’s office, but somehow the city found a way to invalidate the signatures.

Weeks later, HMG-LCCN began reporting on their pot scheme, starting with the three authorizing $400,000 in tax-payer dollars to pay for two bogus “cannabis license screeners.” 

The $400,000 in contracts were labeled “Professional Services” so they could bypass the public bidding process.

The HMG-LCCN investigation found that one “screener” was a former grant writer who was called out for questionable use of a city credit card in Compton, the other was a multi-level Amway-style marketing representative selling fake jewelry.

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Much like the John Noguez case, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and her  Office of Public Integrity has done nothing to investigate the two bogus screeners even though both stories were backed up by reams of documents and solid evidence, including the signed contracts.

Emboldened by the lack of action by Lacey and the OPI, Mayor Soria recently arranged for a city-leased bus to take him and his supporters on an excursion to Las Vegas.

Soria branded the trip “Canna Bus to Las Vegas,” designing a logo that included the city of Commerce’s name prominently displayed inside the famous Las Vegas sign logo –  along with an Ace card that had a huge pot leaf – that was plastered on the side of the bus for everyone to see on the road to Las Vegas.

The story was exclusively reported by HMG-LCCN, and included several incriminating pictures of Soria endorsing public drunkenness while hanging out with convicted criminals.

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Soria on the bus holding a beer while writing about getting drunk to the point of throwing up, “puro pariii.” Behind him is Carlos Maravilla who is running for Commerce City Council. Maravilla was seen with Beltran also.

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The story triggered an investigation by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Internal Affairs Group into Soria, confirmed last week by Sergeant Jeremy Carr of the Sheriff’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

Similar to several other questionable local politicians HMG-LCCN has exposed, including Chuong Vo, who ran for Cerritos City Council and defamed HMG-LCCN in a Facebook rant he later retracted, Soria is now working hard to discredit the stories – and libel HMG-LCCN.

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Last Friday, Soria, using the City’s public relations firm and their media list, distributed a press release tilted “Mayor John Soria Responds to Libelous December 28th Cerritos News Story.”

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“Interesting word libelous,” said HMG-LCCN Publisher Brian Hews, “to allege libel, there must be a printed falsehood. The pot bus story was based on pictures that the Mayor himself posted on Facebook, we simply described what was in the pictures.” 

The press release, which sources told HMG-LCCN was written by Soria himself, would not qualify for a D grade in a third grade English writing class.

The letter, presented here word-for-word, began, “City of Commerce Mayor John Soria denounces content of two Cerritos News stories critiquing his bold leadership on one of California’s fastest growing industries.”

“The December 28 2019 news article informs that an earlier story where Cerritos News spoke ill of the Mayor’s leadership to incite cannabis regulations for the city prompted an internal investigation at the Mayor’s place of work.”

With that statement, Mayor Soria confirmed the Internal Affairs investigation; Soria then confirmed HMG-LCCN triggered the inquiry.

“I am disappointed to learn that a story from Hews News Media or Cerritos news prompted an investigation of my workplace. I categorically and unequivocally serve the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with pride and value my job. My leadership and role as a Councilmember have never compromised my work ethic and so I plan on working with legal counsel to work through this investigation. I fully and completely plan to cooperate.”

Soria is not using the City’s attorney, Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, as legal counsel, in a text to HMG-LCCN Glasman said, “we are not involved [in the investigation] in any manner.”

In his harshest statement, Soria slammed HMG-LCCN with unfounded libelous allegations, “Consistently, Cerritos News editorial positions and story selections favor specific interests that mix facts and frame borderline questionable statements as truth.The blog’s premise is based on poor sourcing and the spreading of conspiracy theories that later must be retracted after being widely shared to major news outlets. As part of my commitment to the truth, I am reviewing my options with legal counsel to put Los Cerritos News on notice that in the City of Commerce, the truth matters.” 

“Don’t know what he is referring to,” said Hews, “HMG-LCCN stories are always based on solid sources and documents to back up their statements and the story, everyone up and down the state of California knows that.”

“The story that triggered the investigation was based on pictures we pulled off of Facebook, I texted and emailed Mayor Soria several times for comment, and he never responded. When you hold a beer on a City-leased bus while endorsing public drunkenness, and then take a picture with convicted felon who later plead to a misdemeanor Mario Beltran, the story writes itself,” said Hews.

Beltran was accused by prosecutors of embezzling campaign funds from Ron Calderon to pay for his legal defense in a 2006 criminal case. Beltran pleaded guilty to four counts.

In addition, Beltran was accused of filing a false police report when he solicited a transvestite prostitute at a seedy hotel in 2013. The prostitute reportedly beat Beltran up and stole his Bell Gardens police badge.

“Plain and simple, Soria libeled HMG-LCCN and me,” said Hews, “consequently, I will be speaking with my legal team this week. And since he sent the press release out as a PDF file on Commerce City letterhead, we will be talking about that too.”

CANNA BUS: from (l-r) Mario Beltran, John Soria, and Commerce Council candidate Carlos Maravilla. Note Maravilla’s t-shirt has a pot leaf inside the Teamster’s logo. Maravilla is running for City Council, the move is sure to alienate him from over 1,000 voters in Commerce.

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