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Is Outside Cannabis Money Influencing Commerce City Council Race?

BY BRIAN HEWS

Back in April 2019, the L.A. Times reported on Lynwood Councilwoman Aide Castro as the driving force behind the  decision to bring cannabis into the city.

But while she was helping to approve the city’s regulations, Castro was also making money off cannabis.

The report found that Castro did not report an ownership stake in a cannabis company worth millions on the state-required financial forms.

She opened a marijuana partnership that markets cannabis to women, she also started her own consulting firm that did work for cannabis businesses, once again not listing the business, as required on her state financial reports.

Castro said none of her consulting clients met the $10,000 annual reporting threshold.

And she was lying.

One of the companies Castro was consulting with, Weedmaps, said they paid Castro over $93,000 while she and the council were changing local regulations to allow marijuana delivery by businesses in the city.

Two delivery services in Lynwood later advertised on Weedmaps.

 “The cannabis industry is something I have a passion for,” she told the Times.

Indeed, along with smoking her own stash. 

In 2001, she was charged with transporting over sixty-one pounds of marijuana. 

Winston Park, her partner in Relative Phenomena LLC, which Castro reported was worth over $1 million, has a marijuana-related arrest by the California Highway Patrol in 2014

But it had to be more than a marijuana realted, Park was convicted and sentenced to 32 months in prison

Castro also formed a partnership with Aaron Herzberg, who runs a marijuana consulting business that helps sell or lease properties devoted to manufacturing cannabis and assists clients in obtaining licenses. 

Now Castro is bringing all her baggage, and pot money, to the tiny city of Commerce, where, similar to Castro, three city council members are on a push to bring pot to Commerce.

Castro is endorsing Oralia Rebollo, a strong cannabis advocate, in her quest to retain her council seat in Commerce.

The move has many scratching their heads wondering aloud why a Councilwoman from Lynnwood, on the other side of Los Angeles county, would endorse a candidate in Commerce.

But Rebollo is just like Castro was years ago, manipulating the system to bring cannabis in the city.

Rebollo sided with two other council members, John Soria and Ivan Altamirano, and paid Renea Ferrel $190,000 to screen cannabis applications.

In the exclusive story by HMG, Ferrel was found to be a former grant writer for the city of Compton, with no experience in cannabis, a recently set up corporation, and a PO Box for an office location.

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Rebollo, Soria, and Altamirano then voted  to pay Ebony McGee Andersen and her company EJMA Planning $210,000 to screen cannabis applications.

Anderson, like Ferrel, had no experience in cannabis, listing her current job as a network marketing sales person for a cosmetic jewelry company.

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Both contracts were classified under professional services, which allows city councils to bypass the public bidding process and award contracts on a majority vote.

Only months after the applicants were awarded licenses, Castro endorsed Rebollo.

City council members typically endorse candidates in neighboring cities, but it is unusual to endorse a candidate in a city on the other side of the county.

Some say it’s simple, Castro has ownership in several cannabis companies, and a city council candidate that is pushing hard to bring cannabis into the city, similar to Rebollo, needs money.

In a message Castro skirted around the contribution question saying, “she attends a local church here that’s how I met her. As for contributions she has received, I don’t know.”

Emails to Ms. Rebollo asking for comment went unreturned.

City Council member Hugo Argumedo, who is also up for re-election and is against cannabis in the city told HMG, “It’s unfortunate that a home grown resident of Commerce would turn her back on the future of our city, our youth. I strongly disagree with her so-called vision. The future of Commerce isn’t in the twenty-eight marijuana businesses she voted on, and the $400,000 she paid those consultants. We gathered nearly 1,000 signatures for a referendum, the residents don’t want pot in the City. The future of Commerce is making it a more livable and walkable city, building a light rail system that will interconnect all of our neighborhoods, make it so we can walk or take that light rail anywhere in the City, generating economic activity while solving the transportation problems we deal with on a daily basis. That’s my vision for the future, not Rebollo’s vision of pot city.”

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