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Conflicts of Interest are Rife Between Bell Gardens Mayor and Former Ron Calderon Staffer

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BY BRIAN HEWS • September 20, 2020

The City Council of Bell Gardens, like many other cities in Los Angeles County, placed a ¾ cent sales tax on the upcoming November ballot.

And like many other cities, the City Council is going to spend taxpayer money to “to ensure the voters are accurately educated and understand the outcome of their vote associated with the sales tax measure,” which is against Government Code 8314 which states, “It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.”

All this with less than 45 days until election day.

The city recently sent out a request for proposal labeling a $36,000 outreach contract “professional services” which precluded the agreement from any kind of formal bidding process.

According to City Manager Mike O’Kelly, the city received one response for the typical outreach contract, submitted by Blue Icon Media, which is owned by long-time political operative Louis Reyes.

The contract was placed on the Sept 14 City Council agenda, with sources telling HMG-CN that Mayor Alejandra Cortez led the charge for the item to be on the agenda.

Reyes was a staffer for disgraced former State Senator Ron Calderon who in 2014 was indicted on 24 criminal charges that alleged he took nearly $100,000 in bribes in exchange for efforts to influence legislation. He was convicted in 2016.

Reyes is also best known for staunchly defending indicted former LA County Assessor John Noguez as the D.A.’s investigation into Noguez was revealed by HMG-CN.

Reyes organized an attack to discredit HMG-CN’s investigation but eventually left the assessor’s office as more evidence came out.

Reyes is also good friends with Mario Beltran, who is mounting a major effort to pass cannabis laws in cities across East Los Angeles and who also worked for Calderon.

Now Reyes, and Mayor Cortez, could come under scrutiny from the D.A.’s office related to the outreach contract.

HMG-CN has learned that a business relationship existed between Reyes and Cortez, a relationship that would have dictated Cortez recuse herself from voting to give Reyes the contract.

A Facebook screenshot from last week showed that Reyes’ Blue Icon was managing Cortez’ Bell Gardens City Mayor Facebook page.

 

 

 

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Mayor Cortez’ Facebook page shows Louis Reyes’ BI Comm LLC managing posts and comments.

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Just days later, but before the vote, Blue Icon was removed as the manager.

 

 

 

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People for Bell Gardens Facebook page showing side by side shots of Mayor Cortez’ Facebook page with Blue Icon as manager (left), then days later Blue Icon was removed to hide their business relationship.

 

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In addition, documents obtained by HMG-CN from the Norwalk Registrar Recorder’s office show that Reyes donated $500 to Cortez’ campaign committee between January 1 and June 30 of this year.

 

 

 

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Mayor Cortez’ campaign committee report from Jan. 1-June 30, 2020 showing Reyes’ donation of $500.

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Normally a donation from a city vendor would demand recusal, but not in Bell Gardens.

Finally, an email obtained by HMG-CN shows Reyes and Cortez working together since 2018 with Reyes designing and printing a “slate” election piece for Cortez and now-Mayor pro tem Lisseth Flores.

 

 

 

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Email showing Reyes designing an election piece (underlined) for Mayor Cortez and Mayor pro tem Flores. The email also indicates that Mario Beltran introduced Reyes to  Flores and does all their election pieces an social media.

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Compounding Reyes and Cortez’ conflict of interest is the existing situation on the Bell Gardens City Council.

Currently, there are only four City Councilmembers, Cortez is Mayor, Lisseth Flores is Mayor pro tem, and Marco Barcena and Pedro Aceituno, who was forced from a seat on the Central Basin Municipal Water Board for holding incompatible offices, are councilmembers.

Even though four members exist on the council, a majority remains three which makes Cortez’ non-recusal even more suspect and smacks of pay-to-play.

The final vote to give Reyes the contract was 3-1 with Cortez, Barcena, and Aceituno voting yes, while Mayor pro tem Lisseth Flores voted no.

Had Cortez properly recused herself, a majority would not have existed and a vote could not have been taken to award the contract to Reyes.

Yet with the many obvious conflicts of interest, Cortez voted yes to give Reyes the contract, which Reyes gladly signed.

In addition HMG-CN has learned that, under new laws passed in January, the tax measure itself, and the way it was placed on the ballot, could be violating the state’s elections code.

Emails into Reyes and Mayor Cortez went unreturned.

 

Read more: Convicted Ex-Bell Gardens Councilman Beltran Urges Donations to Noguez Attorney Fund

L.A. County Sheriff’s Employee & Commerce Mayor and Mario Beltran Sponsor Pot Bus to Las Vegas

Bruce Barrows Alleged Assault Case Headed to DA’s Office Hearing Program-LCCN Publishes Police Report

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