Monday, December 31, 2018

Ending 2018, Forecasting 2019

The Pig by Pablo Picasso (1906)
It's been a year full of play and wonder and homecoming.  I spent eight and a half months abroad and three and a half months here at home in California. I hope that during the year, I brought you great stories, lessons, and insights from faraway lands and at home.

The year started off rough. I was almost killed in Colombia, when a a motorboat propeller slashed through my head and shoulder. Not fun.

But after recovering, I made my way to Argentina, where my hosts were amazing and hospitable. But I almost got stuck there, because customs wouldn't let me board the airplane to South Africa.

The highlights in South Africa included my days in Cape Town, seeing the Wiseman, and going to the Blyde River Canyon with my Swiss-French friends. Also, the Kruger National Park was awesome.

I made my way to the Island of Mauritius, where I got a lot of writing done. On this trip, I was able to publish three opinions in various newspapers, two in South Africa and one in Washington DC. My most recognized piece came out on Business Day in South Africa. I also talked a lot about North Korean trade in the MorningConsult.

From South Africa, I made my way to Ibiza, where I had a great time partying it up, though I was too poor to get into any clubs. Then, I enjoyed my time in the French Alps - where I reflected and meditated. Getting out was a horrendous journey, and I had to hitchhike for hours upon hours to get into Geneva, Switzerland.

I made a few friends there, and afterwards, I finished my trip in Sweden - where I got to meet old and new friends. I also think I had a better understanding of Picasso, when I visited the Modern Art Museum there.

Also, a number of my investigative corruption pieces did well. In the beginning of the year, I reported on how Baldwin Park's Council Woman Monica Garcia was receiving campaign donations from a predatory loan company. I also talked about the dirty money that former Baldwin Park Police Chief received to run for public office. Later in the year, I also talk about how the dirty Police Chief tried to sneak an extra million dollar contract for his requirement. (Thank goodness it wasn't approved.) One of my most popular articles this year was also on how to make $1.8 million a year, be Gus Romo, our former community development director. The open issue for our city is about the $50 million loan it's borrowing. The question is where is all this money going to go?

On the legal front, I argued in the Court of Appeal for Tuttle's case. I lost. That case has now been filed in California's Supreme Court. (I'll write more on this later; as it deserves it's own article.)

On the immigration front, I'm still working on getting Rafael back. The US government deported Rafael, even though he's married to an American and has two American children. It turns out that the government prosecutors that deported him were corrupt. Both ICE Prosecutors, Jonathan Love and Raphael Sanchez, were convicted of fraud by stealing the identity of those they were deporting and are now serving time. I've been thinking very hard and researching remedies on bringing him and his children home.

Financially, it's been difficult, because although I was supposed to get paid in the Tuttle case, the Court of Appeal said, "No," even though the law says, "Yes." Anyways, hopefully, the California Supreme Court takes up the case. Historically though, they only take up 5% of all cases. So the odds aren't good. But, as I've been told: "Fight, until your last breath."

Anyways, in general, it's been a great year. I've learned to be content with what I have. I'm happy to celebrate my new debt-free status. I enjoy spending time with the people, pets, and problems I actually care about. I can't stress how much I love actually doing it.

And while writing this, I realize how much I've done, how much I've experienced, how much I've learned, and all the people I met. It's been a fulfilling year. It's been time well spent. But I push on.

Regarding the future, 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig. Traditionally, in Korean culture, pigs are a sign of luck and prosperity - probably because they can get so fat. No wonder, they say "high as a hog." Perhaps, my fortune will change, but even if it doesn't, the point of life is making the best with the handle you're dealt.

Anyways, I've been doing a lot of thinking, and because I'm back and because my profession is in the business of justice, it looks like I'll be doing some litigation for the year of 2019.

Hopefully, the commandment in Isaiah 1:17 governs the year for me: "[A]nd learn to do right. See that justice is done—help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows.”

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Noel Syers, They Followed the Star
Sorry that I haven't been updating in awhile. Currently I'm writing an important brief. Also, I'm training in boxing. Between those two things, I feel like all my time has been exhausted. I'm also spending quality time with my family, friends, teachers, mentors, and my loving pets.

I'll try to update soon. Until then - Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Thankful Poor by Henry Ossawa Tanner
(First African American painter to reach acclaim) 1894
Sorry for not updating in awhile. Besides reading, configuring my diet, cleaning the house, running, boxing, and spending time with family and friends, I haven't really had too much downtime to write. I don't have internet access either at home. My cell phone was stolen on the plane ride between South Africa and Spain. Also, I don't have internet at home to save money.

The negative is because I'm not "connected", it's harder for me to write. Nonetheless, on weighing everything up, the truth is that one of the best blessings in disguise was having my cell phone stolen. Yes, it can burden people who need to contact me for meetings, but I incidentally found that I spend my time a lot better without having internet access.

As a result, I spend more time with my family and friends and my cat Jeh Pan, who has finally forgiven me for taking such a long absence. I've also read more; the kind of thing people did when TV wasn't around. So, being without a cell phone has certainly re-tooled my time in a way I didn't expect; that's left me a lot more fulfilled, knowledgeable, and more interesting.

I can prove it. In the last two months, I learned that depression destroys neurons. An injection of young blood can regrow nerves. If senior citizens live with their grandchildren, they tend to live longer. Celebrity chefs that stay slim all approve of dark chocolate, don't eat their own food often (haha), and most of them eat-in with much simpler foods than they cook for clients. When I analyzed Bobby Flay's book on bbq, I also realized there are only generally only five ways to cook meat. See; so if you don't want to be boring, you have to read and research more.

(My commentary: I think all this social media junk is destroying the social skills of mine and the next generation. I should've taken a picture of this. When I was in Stockholm, Sweden, I saw so many younger people sitting around the table on their phones, all of them, but they were so desperate to talk to each other. They just didn't know how. If community makes you live longer, unfortunately, these people (at least according to my research) will be more prone to depression, disease, and Alzheimer. No good.)

In any event, we're going back to Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for all the lessons I've learned. I stopped by my relatives, who all said I look very healthy and attractive. I haven't seen them in two years. So that's a good sign for me.

They couldn't make sense of how I traveled the world for 15 months. They criticized me for not making lots of money. All of them! They said I need a house, a new car, and lots more money.

I gave them one answer that made them laugh and stopped their arguments in their tracks: "You only have one life." I added: "So, it's good to enjoy."

Most seniors I meet seem regretful they didn't see as much of the world as they should have. In their youth, they said they would but never got around to it. I showed my family lots of pictures of Peru and the mountains - which they seemed fascinated with. I talked a lot about the wonderful foods I ate around the world, especially in Peru and Ibiza and France.

In any event, I suppose the lesson of this Thanksgiving is to really value the relationships you have. I was reading a Chinese parable, where the king couldn't figure out the significance of life. After passing a trial - a wise old man in the mountains gives him - the wise man tells the king - "The most important time is now. The most important people in your life are those who are present before you now. And the most important things to do with your time is to spend it meaningfully with the people you're present with now."

No wonder why Jesus says that the angels rejoice when relationships are restored. In fact, he says that a restored relationship is worth more than even finding silver treasure. (Luke 15:8-10). So, for me, lots to be grateful for this year.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Did Mayor Lozano and Council Member Pacheco authorize illegal marijuana farm?

On November 3, 2018, Greg S. Tuttle, local businessman and activist, went to the industrial district at 13111 Spring Street in Baldwin Park, where he was looking to find his old supplier. But instead, he discovered a warehouse with a chain linked fence, growing tens of thousands of dollars of marijuana. He checked whether the address had a permit to do so, and discovered that the grower did not.

So, he decided to file a police report. The funny thing is that nobody at the police station wanted to take the report. After persistently escalating the matter, the police eventually allowed him to file his report. Unfortunately, it appears that the Baldwin Park Police Department knew about this illegal operation for some time now. Apparently, there was an order to "stand down" regarding the property on 13111 Spring Street.

Sources allege that Mayor Lozano and Council Member Pacheco may have collected private money in exchange for waiving licensing fees for the grower. Although the anonymous sources do not want to be named, this allegation is consistent with the Mayor's decision to defer the collection of permit fees by all the businesses awarded a marijuana license. The Mayor's decision is controversial, given the fact that next year the city's deficit could be as high as $14.5 million.

In Baldwin Park, it appears that marijuana money has become one of the main forms of political campaign contributions. Back in December of 2017, the Legal Lens exposed how Baldwin Park's Police Chief took at least $10,000 in drug money to fund his campaign for public office, and then won.

Well, for Lozano, his public debut began with being busted for trucking marijuana, and it appears he may be hauled out of public office for getting a cut of the cash crop - drug lord style.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

City of Baldwin Park authorizes estimated $10,000 in attorney's fees to collect $6.56

Ricardo Pacheco, Monica Garcia, Manuel Lozano
(From left to right)
Mayor Manuel Lozano and Council Members Monica Garcia and Ricardo Pacheco authorized an estimated $10,000 in attorney's fees to collect $6.56. After Cook filed an unsuccessful appeal, the City, through the firm of Albright, Yee, and Schmit attempted to collect $357.16. On October 30, 2018, the trial court awarded the City $6.56, which the city disputed as unfair. The judge hammered the city, stating that their wasting attorney's fees in collecting such a small amount.

The underlying case regarded two unsuccessful appeals. The City was ordered to release records under court order called a writ. The City was shown to have lied about not releasing records, but the court excused them from releasing more. Also, attorney's fees should have been awarded, but were not. The appellate court, unfortunately, did not call on the City to release more information.

Robert Tafoya, looking shameful,
for drafting the Chief of Police's questionable contract.
As a result, Lozano and the city attorney have reflected a retaliatory attitude. In an email dated on August 16, 2018 - the City Attorney wrote - "I beat you down, you appealed, and lost again, and now I am collecting fees and costs against you for Baldwin Park. I understand why you are so bitter." Well, congratulations to the City for spending wasteful thousands of dollars to get a judgment for $6.56.

Unfortunately, the problem with the vindictive and retaliatory attitude of the Mayor and the City Attorney is that they're spending other people's money and not their own. At some point - that's bound to run out. In short, it's a lot of money to spend to try to get even, especially when the City is running a potential deficit of $14.5 million this year.

Clifton Albright
Baldwin Park's poor judgment, however, reflects a bigger problem with government, attorneys, and the sordid relationship between the two. The Tafoya firm was accused of billing fraud of $127,000. Since being city attorney, Tafoya has charged about $400,000 every year since he's been city attorney of Baldwin Park. Hiring someone to be an in-house city attorney should only cost $120,000 a year, especially for a small city.

We should all be asking: How much of this money is going back to the Mayor and council members?

The City has yet to disclose how much it's spent on the Albright firm's billing. Yet, we do know that their billing specialist is an ex-convict, who has scammed victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The City of South Gate also sued the firm to recover $1.8 million from it. Albright claims that the double billing was often an "accident". Perhaps, Albright is willing to engage in this behavior, because he's over-leveraged all his properties and owes quite a bit of money on all his real estate throughout the United States.

In any event, the City's bitter defeat is a win for the people - especially because it exposes their wastefulness and nastiness. The real problem in our democracy is that we can no longer hold these people accountable and get rid of them from office.

I'd like to end with the words of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn again: “You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Court of Appeals and other updates

Tuttle's Case against Pacheco, Garcia, and Lozano.
Monica Garcia, Jimmy Gutierrez, Paul Cook, and Greg Tuttle
(From left to right).
Sorry to everyone for not updating; it's actually been a busy last few weeks. My big event was on October 15, 2018 - I had oral arguments for Tuttle's case at the Court of Appeal in Downtown, Los Angeles. I appealed the trial court, because I wasn't awarded mandatory attorney fees, after Mayor Lozano, Council Member Pacheco and Garcia, filed a meritless restraining order against my client Greg S. Tuttle. (In total, they've violated our Free Speech Rights in four instances.) But even though I won Tuttle's case, I didn't get my attorney's fees. So that was what was being appealed.

It's a bizarre world we live in, when three attorney firms are making a killing on doing evil and losing, and I get nothing for doing good and winning. That's called our modern court system. What's worse though, is that these three attorney firms are making money off taxpayer money to defend the position of destroying our right to Free Speech. In my view, this is reprehensible.

Anyways, personally, I felt like my fourth oral argument at the Second District Court of Appeals was a good experience. As usual, I learned a lot and am getting better at the whole thing. This was my first hot bench experience; I was asked probably 7 difficult questions by the justices. I was in that zone-mode; so, I don't actually remember that much of what was asked. I just remember and felt like I answered each one thoroughly and well. Sadly, the other side wasn't asked any question - as usual. I mean - the main question is: "Don't they have to pay something for being evil and wasting everyone's time?"

Other than that, I've been settling in at home. My cat's finally forgiven me for taking such a long break from home. My mother brews me my favorite Blue Mountain coffee every morning. I feel so happy after I drink it. During this time, we chat about life. There will be a time . . . That lift and drop a question on your plate.

Once, I pointed to my mug that had a painted silly owl on it. And I told my mother in Korean, like a kid: "It comes from Japan." 

Then, she said, "Are you ever going to grow up?"

I laugh.

My mom's awesome, and I appreciate her so much for planning my meals for the week. She often boils bones for two days to make a broth to keep me healthy and strong. I add saffron to make the broth glow gold. It'd be hard to find something more nourishing than that.

I've also been catching up with friends. I'm back at boxing training. And I run on the off days in the hills at night. There, an owl has taken a liking to me, and s/he greets me sometimes. It's definitely a whimsical looking creature with big bright orange eyes that shine in the moon light. It reminds me of a bird version of the Cheshire Cat. How can one be silly and wise at the same time?

Other than that, on my free time, I'm enjoying my time reading new books. Highly pleasurable.

The other day, I read a verse from the Psalms. It impacted me so much, I thought I should share. It says: "Light shines in the darkness for good people, for those who are merciful, kind, and just. . . . He is not afraid of receiving bad news; his faith is strong, and he trusts in the Lord." (Psalms 112:4 & 7 GNT). 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lozano offers to buy votes for $50 each

Manuel Lozano, looking nervous,
as he was sued in court
On October 4, 2014, Mayor Manuel Lozano's political consultant and candidate for city clerk, Jean Ayala, offered to buy votes for $50 a pop. FoxNews broke the story. Lozano, Ayala and his team are now alleging that Danny Damian hacked her account. Nonetheless, the story confirms long standing rumors that Lozano engages in voting fraud.

Back in November of 2015, the Legal Lens ran a statistical analysis that strongly suggested voting fraud. Back then, Lozano appeared to be rigging the election through absentee votes, in which 774 votes were casted only for him. In that election, there was a historical number of voter turn out of 27%. This is consistent with Ayala's alleged scandal, in which clearly stated that the $50 to be paid is for voters to vote only for her and Lozano. At $50 a pop, the cost of rigging such an election could cost up to $38,700. This is an amount that's been alleged he collects for his campaigning.

In November 2017, the Legal Lens analyzed more irregularities from the 2015 election, which shows a highly likelihood of voter fraud by absentee votes.

Witnesses have alleged that members of Lozano's party have been caught engaging in voter fraud. For instance, a number of witnesses have seen Lozano's family members filing out absentee votes for disabled or unconscious patients at nursing homes.

Other witnesses have seen Lozano's brother, known as Junior, collecting absentee votes. Another vote harvester was caught near the Telacu apartments getting and filling out Chinese votes.

Back in August 27, 1998, the LA Times ran article - where the city clerk suspected Lozano of voting fraud.

The trend of voting fraud in working class Hispanic cities is becoming more blatant. Other cities that have had voting fraud discovered include the City of Bell, Vernon, and the City of Industry.

I emailed Lozano asking for a comment on the story. I also asked him if the allegations are true, how much time he and Ayala should serve in prison. Lozano did not comment for this story.

Desperate to not have his cash cow of being Mayor taken away, all I can say, is he's at it again.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The miserable condition of the American economy

Classic image of inflation
I left for 15 months, after coming home, the most apparent American problem is the escalating prices; it appears almost everything has jumped up 10% to 20%. Whoever said inflation is at 2% a year is wrong!

To make things worse, in California, Governor Jerry Brown, also known as Moonbeam, raised gas taxes. Now we have the most expensive gasoline in America.

Food is up. Although a friend disagrees, it also seems like the quality of it is also worse (but maybe that's also because I came back from France). This is all terrible.

Now, unconstitutionally, the US Supreme Court says we need to pay out of state taxes for internet bought items. But according to their own originalist logic - shouldn't we honor the Founding Father's intent of different states offering different benefits - like lower taxes?

And the government keeps telling us the solution is to tax us more. Do they know what they're talking about? Most of my generation is already trapped in student debt too. We're truly becoming "les miserables" (the miserable).

On a local municipal level, in Baldwin Park, even Manny Carrillo decided to raise the city boxing membership 10%, but he collects the cash and doesn't tell us where it goes. He won't provide for an accounting. He may now be collecting an illegal 2.5% credit card fee.

If it wasn't for my family and friends and pets, I wouldn't be here. The real solution is to prosecute corruption; tax the 1%; fix the pension crisis; and prohibit government loans, except in emergencies.

But since those solutions aren't coming anytime soon, my personal solution to the problem is twofold. I'm going to be doing the minimal amount of work I need to to survive; so, I won't pay my government that much taxes. You buy less; you also pay less sales tax too, right? Can't suck blood from a stone. I'm also going to start investing in anti-government assets, but I'll let you figure out what those are.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Baldwin Park Police Chief tries to sneak through an extra million dollars for retirement

Michael Taylor, BP Chief of Police
(Trying to show off his "good" side)
Fearing a new city council with the upcoming local elections, Baldwin Park Police Chief, Michael Taylor, tries to sneak through a contract that would guarantee him about an extra million dollars in retirement. Does the alcoholic, underperforming, bankruptee police chief ever stop with his schemes?

At the last two special council meetings, Taylor demanded a $50,000 raise; another week or two in vacation time, which would push his vacation time to be around 2 months, and a clause where he could only be fired for committing a felony - such as grand theft, murder, or pedophilia. According to the LA Times, no one has ever heard of this type of contract for a police chief.

Taylor and his wife could be retiring at an extra million. This is because, if he retires for 20 years, at an additional $50,000 - that comes out to a million dollars. In 2016, according to, the average salary of an individual in Baldwin Park is about $18,000 - meaning that almost 50% of the residents live around the poverty line. Taylor persists to ask for huge raises, even after he fired a boxing coach for complaining that a forty cent an hour raise was not enough for working for the City for 20 years.

Taylor was fired in September 2016. After being rehired though, he's been the center of a number of corruption scandals in East San Gabriel Valley and in his hometown of Rialto. Besides the Grand Jury reporting that Taylor impounded cars illegally for $11.3 million, Taylor accepted drug money to run for public office at the West Valley Water Board. Although about $10,000 was accepted, evidence points to it being more.. In exchange, it appears that Taylor granted a convicted felon a marijuana license.

The bankruptee Taylor also cost the City of Baldwin Park even more by condoning First Amendment retaliation. In my case, after ordering me strip searched, Taylor cost the City of Baldwin Park $68,500 and cost Baldwin Park even more by code enforcing Greg Tuttle by putting up critical signs of Ricardo Pacheco. It appears, in Baldwin Park - the more corrupt acts you commit, like Taylor, the bigger your paycheck becomes.

Witnesses have seen Taylor's personal problems seep into his professional life. It's been reported that Taylor drinks up to 22 beers a night and then not report into work the next day. Divorce records confirm his rampant alcoholism. The bankruptee's spending sprees on city money are notorious, including the purchase of furniture that cannot be found. In other words, some the furniture purchased is not on site.

Was actual furniture purchased, or were the furniture invoices doctored? The Baldwin Park's former HR Director and other anonymous witnesses have alleged that Taylor sexually advanced on them inappropriately. (Them too.) My source that told me about the former police chief's daughter being caught with narcotics with a strange man at a hotel, allegedly originated with Taylor - who pushed for the publication of this story. (Later, he instigated the police department to vote "no confidence" for the former police chief. Sounds like Iago from Othello to me.)

I've emailed Taylor, asking him to confirm or deny the kinds of new benefits he's pursuing with his new contract. (His previous felony-clause-contract was approved by Mayor Lozano and Council Members Ricardo Pacheco and Monica Garcia.) I've also asked why he thinks his pay (including benefits) should total $300,000, when a Police Chief of Los Angeles gets paid $300,000 to $350,000. A Los Angeles police chief serves 4 million residents with 9,000 officers and 3,000 civilian officers. In contrast, Baldwin Park has officially 80,000 residents and about 80 full time officers. Taylor has refused to comment on the matter, even though tax payers will be paying him millions in retirement.

Doesn't this remind anyone of the City of Bell?

"Men should be what they seem." But in Taylor's case, as long as he remains chief, the Baldwin Park residents have a deceptive, morally and financially bankrupt public servant, who is a cancerous problem for us all.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Day 0 - At Home in Los Angeles

Duk-Guk (Bone broth and rice dumplings)
When I came home, my cat Jeh Pan looked at me confused. Did he come back from the dead?  He thought. He let me pick him up and recognized my smell, but it took him a day to accept the fact that I was indeed back.

He has a new friend named Jeffrey now. There's a new chicken, but my favorite one died. Other than a few more cobwebs being in my room, home looked almost exactly the way I left it. It made me feel like I almost never left on such a big trip.

The next morning, my mother made me Korean chicken soup with rice dumplings. It was awesome, but I still had some jet lag and woke up at 4AM. I woke up feeling groggy, even though I slept enough hours.

It felt like I entered into a time warp - where time flowed much slower. There were no new people to meet, no new places to see, no exotic animals, no exotic foods, or new environments. Generally, people appeared to follow the course of the life they set themselves on, before I left.

How do you tell someone in one conversation how much your life has changed on such a big trip? How do you tell them about how much of what you've seen, experienced, tasted, and learned changed how you now saw the world? How about the fact that my communication skills in other languages also improved? That's why I felt like I entered into a world - where time was so much slower.

I had a boxing coach who always said that everything has a beginning and an end; so I guess coming home is a new beginning marked at Day 0. I traveled for 443 days, starting on July 1, 2017. My journey ended on September 18, 2018. I started and returned from and to Los Angeles. During that time, I was in 9 countries: Peru, Colombia, Argentina, South Africa, Mauritius, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Sweden. I've probably met over 1,000 new people. I've traveled an estimated 73,600 km or 46,000 miles. And during all that time, I lived out of a small suitcase and a backpack.

And that's it folks. My 2017-2018 sabbatical is official over. It's time to start a new chapter in my life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Playing in Stockholm

Stockholm, Sweden
After 15 months of traveling, I was coming home from Stockholm, Sweden. It was my last chance to play in Europe; so, I was going to stay one week to live it up with the Swedes in their glitzy and creative and elegant capital. On my flight home, not only was I impressed with Stockholm; I was so sad to go.

I stayed at the Generator Hostel and chose it because of it's reasonable price and it's close location to the central metro and train station in Stockholm. It's one of those new and trending hostels that cater for backpackers looking to meet people like themselves from other countries.

After checking in, I met my roommate from the Netherlands, a Dutch guy name Daan. We got to talking, and later we sat in the lobby - where I met a number of Germans and other Dutch people. We'd often have breakfast together downstairs with the other guys and meet again for dinner. During the days most of us did our own thing.

Swedish meatballs at Mom's Kitchen
During the days in Stockholm, I drank beautiful coffee and ate good food and went to several museums. Swedes love their coffee, and I was particularly impressed with JOHAN & NYSTRÖM, which served a unique and aromatic aeropress coffee.

I told the owner, after I drank it, "It makes me feel so happy." He said, "That's what we aim for." So of course, I went a couple times a week, where I would write and read and do research.

For food, Daan and I ate local Swedish food often at a place called Mom's Kitchen. Although everything is expensive in Sweden, the food is at an awesome price for amazing food. The first night - Daan had meatloaf, and I had fried herring (a fish) with lingonberries, which is a kind of Swedish berry. The second time we went, we had Swedish meatballs in cream sauce with mashed potatoes.

A Picasso in Moderna Museet
For museums, I went to the Moderna Museet (Modern Museum). The museum is divided into the modern art gallery and the architecture exhibits. I don't know much about architecture, but I loved some of the Picassos at the museum. There hasn't been a Picasso I haven't liked though. (Guernica is still my favorite in Madrid.)

But I think more than the museum, I'll never forget the amazing walk from central station to the museum - where you must cross through the richest streets in Sweden and where we could view all the elegant and tall buildings on the waterfront. The sun shone, and it was pleasant, which in turn made all the people on the streets pleasant too. It's also fun to walk across the bridges to the different islands. Stockholm is capital made up of different islands - which are connected by bridges.

I also met with my friend Ivan - a Swedish friend I met from a different time and place. He wanted to become a doctor and was taking their standardized test. I haven't seen Ivan for awhile, and so when we met me at the metro stop, he gave me such a big and warm hug. Ivan, was super tall and big too and had blue eyes and long blonde hair tied in a ponytail. Back in the days, they would've hired him as a raider on a viking ship.

View in walking to Moderna Museet
He took me to an Indian restaurant, where we both ordered butter chicken. There, we caught up about our lives. I told him, it was cold and rainy. He said, "You should've come in the summer."

I told him, "I came the day the summer ended." And we bought laughed at hearing it. I gave him a big hug and said let's catch up again before we left.

On another day, Ivan and I met again at the subway stop. We took a ferry to the Swedish king's former hunting island. There, Ivan asked if I'd like to go to the ship museum or the aquarium.

Yellow sea horses
we saw at the aquarium
I choose the aquarium. I felt like we were kids again on a field trip. We saw the Amazonian fish, the tropical aquarium, and the native Swedish fish - both fresh and saltwater. The best thing at the aquarium was there frog exhibit - where they showcased frogs from all over the world. For the first time, I saw those brilliant and gem-like poison arrow dart frogs I've seen in books. They looked like little rubies and sapphires and amethysts that could jump. They looked very cute, but I heard one drop of their poison into your blood could kill you.

Some of the frogs looked like they came out of Jurassic Park. For instance, one of the frogs' claws had fingers that looked like sticks. It was a very bizarre but interesting creature indeed.

After, Ivan and I talked at there cafe, where I ate a shrimp salad. They told us the aquarium was closing down in two weeks. So, I felt like I made the right choice to pick it over the ship museum. We sat at a place that overlooked the water into the skyline of the city. I told him how much I enjoyed Sweden over Stockholm and how friendly the people were. I told him a story.

Daan, Me, (Portugese guy), Remi, and Belinda in Stockholm
(From left to right)
One day, while Daan and I were walking to get dinner, we passed by an art gallery, and I was taken by the watercolor paintings of cats and mice. A dignified elderly lady told me, "It's a book signing for a children's book. Go in and look." I told he we had to get to the restaurant before it closed, but we chatted for a good 10 minutes about our lives. She told me her children were coming to Los Angeles and wanted to see Mexico.

I don't know why, but I made a choice. I should offer my place. So, I did. When we left, she gave me a hug too; I didn't even know her. I told her, "Oh, you're a lot friendlier than the Danes." She said, "You can't trust Danes. They have an ugly language." I started laughing so much.

Ivan smiled. And I said, "Congratulation Ivan. You're not like the Danes. You don't have ice in your blood."

Ivan and I took a walk back towards my hostel. When he went as a far as he could, we said good bye. I told him to keep in touch.

Later at the hostel, as I walked out of my room, a Dutch guy said, "Hey - you're the American guy. You sat our table."

I remembered and said, "Oh, yeah. What's your name?"


"Oh, that's such a cool name. It's the name of my favorite X-Man." Then I said it in the French way - "Reh-mi!"

"The French way is way better than how the Dutch say it," Remi said. "You were at our table with the other Dutch guy [Daan]. I was sitting at the other end." Because Daan was so tall, Remi sometimes called him the "Dutch Michael Jordan." Remi made me laugh a lot.

"Oh, yeah. But I couldn't see you."

Later, we all started hanging out. Remi was really into organizing outings. He created a WhatsApp group and let people in or blocked them out. Remi kept complaining about a dumb guy who wanted in, but Remi wouldn't let him in.

On the last night, we were all going to a night club. Before going, Daan and Remi and Belinda from London and I all ate at a French restaurant nearby. We all ordered cocktails. Daan and Remi ordered quail in truffle sauce; they booked looked happy with their food. I ordered a foie gras taco. Belinda ordered a number of tapas. Remi was really into the waitress, who was cute and gorgeous and kind. We all talked about how the Swedes are beautiful and have an elegant and dignified vibe about them.

That dinner cost, but it was so worth eating outside - where the people envied us having a good time. The beautiful blonde girls who walked down the rich street did little stunts that forced us to stare at them - such as twirling their hair with their fingers while they passed us. Even the table next to us seemed full of happiness and said "Good bye," but we didn't even know them.

We went back to the hostel to drink. We picked up two other guys, one from Germany and one from French-Canada (which is a bad place, because it's second to both the U.S. and France). The German was grumpy.

When we got to the nightclub, there was a long line. I tried to ask the bouncer if he'd let me and skip the queue. He wouldn't, but I knew I almost got in. So, I brought Belinda with me. We said it was her birthday. He didn't believe us, but it was. He checked her ID and then mine, and he let us skip the queue. Unfortunately, we still had to pay. (I still wonder if I could have got in for free, had I done more. Hmmm...)

At the club, I sat down with Belinda - waiting for the rest. Two Swedish guys immediately joined us. We chatted. They bought Belinda drinks for her birthday. One was in the army. The other was a university student. They were very kind. It was the first time I met some new Swedes their age. They were from the country up North.

After our friends came, and everyone partied and danced until closing time at the club, which was 3AM. We ordered a taxi. I said good bye to everyone. I slept two hours. Then, I checked out and made walked to the metro station with my luggage. I was going to the airport. My sabbatical was over.

Well as Zara Larsson said: "My dream is to have a bed of my own in Los Angeles and one in Sweden."

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A night in Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland
If getting into the French Alps was difficult to see my friends, getting out was even harder. It took over 3 hours to hitchhike out of the Alps and into Geneva, Switzerland. Then, from the edge of Geneva, I had to walk 5 miles to my hostel with all my luggage. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, the kind where everyone comes out to enjoy the sunshine, the weather and walk left me sweaty and sticky and tired.

I had to wait one hour to get a ride from someone in a village in the middle of nowhere. He was the owner of a car dealership, and even though he was a French white guy, he could speak Mandarin. I was surprised. He actually thought I was Chinese at first. He dropped me off by the freeway.

The second person to pick me up was an older hippie guy with a half African child. He smelled of weed, and he didn't take me to where he said he was going. I got kind of scared, because he was driving me closer to Italy than to Switzerland. He explained however he had some business for his kid there, and then he drove me 5 miles away from the Swiss border. I exited and walked to the freeway entrance to Geneva.

The third people to pick me up were an Indian guy from Madagascar and his wife. They were very pleasant and kind, and I was really happy to talk to them. They dropped me off five miles from the city center.

It was far. So, I stopped by a Swiss cafe called Pauly. I remember a documentary about it. The documentary showed how this baker wanted to make the best bread in the world for the world. But, the croissant was $4, and that was incredible! It tasted good, but it tasted just as good as my 50 cent croissant in France. This was crazy to pay so much for bread.

From the cafe, I got directions and walked toward the fountain and then across the bridge and to the only hostel in town on Rue Rothschild. The Rothschilds are some of the richest bankers in the world, and they are often behind conspiracy theories of world domination. Well, they obviously have enough money, if they have a street in central Geneva named after them.

When I get to the hostel, I'm glad I made a reservation at the hostel, because it was booked out. What I noticed here, was that so many people in their 40's to 60's were booking at this hostel, because Switzerland is so expensive! It was $36 to share a room. Incredible again.

The first night a few people wanted to talk, but I wasn't in the mood. I was tired from hitchhiking, baking in the sun, and walking 5 miles with my luggage. I didn't feel like talking to anyone.

For dinner, I had a sandwich. It cost $11! Prices in Geneva are actually unbelievable. And it is a lovely city, a lovely city indeed. But to me, it reeks of corruption. I saw all these rich people from other countries. I wondered if all of them came to open or access their secret Swiss bank accounts.

In the morning, I talked to an English guy and a Flemish guy and that was nice. Then, I took the train into the airport.

I was going to Stockholm, Sweden and then, home! It's been close to 15 months. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Exiting France and arriving at the Swiss Border

A town by the Swiss border
It was difficult getting out of the mountains. My French host nearly cried when I left the Alps.

My host drove me to a secluded village an hour away. He had fun driving through the twisted and serpentine road in the fog and the rain.

He said it was like driving through a race course. There, I stayed at a hippy community for one night. The people were happy to have me, and they fed me good food and nice red wine and gave me free housing.

The leader of the commune asked me to come to his place and to have a drink of sherry he made with green walnuts.

The next day, we threshed seeds from radishes.

After, the lady who invited me took me to the next village.

I had to get to the largest town by 4PM, because there, I had a ride I paid for, who would take me to the Swiss border. And at the Swiss border, I had a French friend - who nobody knows about. I feel so fortunate to have some friends in Europe - how I know them and how I met them - only God knows.

I hitchhiked. But there were no cars. It was so difficult. Even though I gave myself an hour of being late, it looked like I wasn't going to make it.

No one was traveling through the Alps. One car took me to the next village. Then I waited for 30 minutes there. No one took me. I had someone take me to the village after that.

I waited by a bridge, and a retired French couple took pity on me and said they would take me rather far. I requested they take me to the large town, because I was running late.

They were from Paris but retired in the Alps. They felt bad for me and agreed. They called my ride and told them I'd be late.

It turns out he was late too. I made it to the large town. They gave me their email. I would email them later and thank them.

My ride was late. Very late. He took me to the border of France and Switzerland. My driver found me a hostel at the border of Switzerland. He said there was no way I was going to hitchhike to see my friend tonight, because he was in the middle of the French Alps - where nobody goes.

Several people wanted to talk to me at the hostel. But I wasn't in the mood. I was tired, especially from the stress of almost missing my ride.

For dinner - I ordered a kebab. I asked the cashier if he spoke English. He said, "No." So, I ordered in French, which made them smile. (I mean - of course I can order a kebab now in French. I've been here for over 2 months.)

It came out perfect. He smiled, and so did the owners.

I emailed my friend and said I wouldn't be able to see him tonight. It was late, and no car picks up a hitchhiker at night.

The next day, I got lunch in the village. I had a bit of culture shock, because I wasn't used to seeing traffic lights, cars, or even a shopping center. I was in the mountains for too long.

At lunch, I found a traditional French restaurant. The people next to me were locals, but I couldn't eat all the food next to me. So, I gave some of it to them, even they were strangers. They both thanked me, but it made everyone around me happier, as they watched me share my food.

The Grandmothers behind me asked if I wanted to try their dessert. I declined, but I said, "You look really happy," in English. And she said, "Always, when I'm eating good food." The old lady was talking about how she was tending her garden, and how much she enjoyed it.

Because, I didn't eat enough food, I felt tipsy from the wine. So, I rested at the hostel, before I had to hitchhike to see my friend.

I was very worried, because he was in the middle of nowhere, at the top of the Alps. And I had no idea how I was going to get there, especially because there was no public transport. I wrote down all the villages I had to pass through.

I hitchhiked for 10-20 minutes, when a car got me and took me to my first point. They were a young couple, and when they had such happy and bright smiles. They were going to the Alps for a wedding.

Then I hitchhiked for another 10 minutes, and then a car took me to the point after that. She was a middle age lady returning from work to the village.

Then, 10 minutes later, a guy got me, but he felt bad for me and took me all the way to my friend's village. He was a divorcee, who was picking up his son as per their custody deal.

He dropped me off at the local village bar. There, I told the bar owner I'm looking for my friend. The bar owner called, and my friend came with children! Then he took me in his car to his friend's place.

They had a big party that night. Everybody was impressed I had come to see him. It was really a mission. Maybe I'm the first person that visited from Los Angeles.

It was good seeing him and his family again, especially after 7 years. For dinner, his friends made a Thai dish. We drank wine and ate salami and nuts to wait. A lady friend of his sat next to me for dinner. We talked a lot.

The next day, after eating a wonderful breakfast, my host took me to the river with his children, and we swam in the river of the forest, with mountains behind us, and people fly fishing in the river.

It's been a long and hard journey. But I'm glad I made it to see my friend. He seems to appreciate and know how hard it was for me. I wish I could tell everybody who picked me up - how much it meant for this family that I made the effort to see them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Day 431: My last days in France

Hiking through the French Alps
I feel conflicted about leaving France soon. I'm not going to lie: I fell in love with France. And I believe she loves me too. (Soon, I'll say that I know she loves me too.) This is my third trip in France, but it's in the Alps that the people won my heart over with their kindness and hospitality. It's been said that the kindest people in France are in the North; that they have big hearts there. I've never been. But I can say the people of the French Alps are some of the most wonderful people you can meet in the world.

I love my local butchers too. He has the best lasagne, even though it's an Italian dish. From him, I buy fresh filet mignon and cheesy potatoes. Sometimes, I buy a leg of rabbit or a quail. The quail is often sold out. His lentils with pieces of fat is also amazing. Just yesterday, I tried his smoked bacon, which was to die for.

How can you not love a people that care so much about food? It reflects their values in living an enjoyable and beautiful life.

I think the people of the village know I eat well; as they see me buying quail, filet mignon, rabbit, and the rich red wine I drink.

I've gotten to know the local baker, who has the best raspberry tarts, but those went out of season about two weeks ago. Now, he uses strawberries. He bakes the most wonderful rye bread and croissants. He speaks some English. He tells me, "You only care about food."

I smiled and laughed, embarrassed. I tell my uncle all the foods I eat every day, and he says, "You're going to get fat."

But I doubt it. I run almost every day through the Alps at sunset - when the sky becomes washed in a ruby and amethyst hue. Some of the trees are so tall and large, it seems like I'm nobody in this great world.

One time, I ran through the Alps after the rain, and it looked like clouds of steam and grayish-purple smoke were rising from the valleys of the mountains. It made me wonder if a dragon actually slept below the Alps. Perhaps, it's where the ancient Leviathan really lives. I wish I could find him and see him and then ride on his back into the heavens.

Another time, while running in the forest, I got caught in the rage of a storm. The brilliant blue lightning struck and two seconds later, the thunder roared, and the great rumble lasted for at least 6 seconds. Because I was so close the lightning, the noise was frightening. When Lucifer clashed against Michael and his angels, did the war in Heaven roar as loud as the thunder I heard that day?

A guy in a Mercedes felt bad for me, as he saw that I was wet, as wet as a stray cat in a storm. He picked me up and drove me back. That was kind of him.

Of course, you can imagine, I'm by myself a lot. I read the Bible and pray and reflect often. I do a lot of research, and if you've been following this blog - I've been writing a lot on the corrupt city. Maybe the fresh mountain air has inspired insights in me.

Some days after finishing a big pieces of research, I go to the local bar in the golden afternoon sun, take off my shirt, and bake in the Alp sunshine. My waitress brings me licorice alcohol, and I sit and think and enjoy myself. I'll sit and read my books. Of course, the locals have commented how bronze my skin has become.

If it's raining, I'll go see the baker - who'll serve me an espresso. After I drink it, I feel so happy, and I don't know why his espressos make me feel so happy.

Well, as the baker said, the summer is finished in France. It's definitely getting cooler up here, but today is nice and sunny and warm and beautiful. I should enjoy it. I have to make my way out of Europe now. And I can feel this chapter of my life closing; part of me doesn't want to let go, but part of me knows that life sometimes has clear chapters that end. Perhaps - it's more obvious for me with the end of summer in France - where everything comes alive and the people celebrate living life.

I missed and miss all my friends and family. I'll be so happy to see all of you. And I hope the cat and my friends' children remember me. I've learned: "À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible." (For a courageous heart - nothing is impossible.")

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Baldwin Park cooks its books to give $1.7 million in raises, but will overspend $14.5 million next year.

by Banksy
Modified by me
Baldwin Park officials will give raises to all the city officials, including the mayor, council members, and city clerk and to its directors in the total amount of $1.7 M (million) for the fiscal year of 2018-2019. But how could it do this, when my independent audit reveals that the City is estimated to overspend $14.5 M in total next year, $9.8 M of which is in operational cost alone. Has Rose Tam, the City's finance director cooked the books again?

The budget appears to be misrepresented in mainly three ways: (1) inflating the city's income stream, (2) hiding ballooning legal costs, and (3) hiding and mis-categorizing the city's current debt and accruing interest. After the audit, the key finding is that the City will spend $1.7 in giving out raises, 71% of which will go to the city officials, directors, and the police brass. The City has decided to do this, even when it appears that the City will be running an operational deficit of $9.8 M and a capital deficit of $4.7 M**. In total, that's $14.5 M.

The following article explains what's happening in the budget and where the city officials are planning to do. All this is very concerning.

Here's a summary of a more accurate view of the City's finances. The analysis follows on how these figures have been reached.

Summary of City of Baldwin Park's Financial Project for 2018-2019 (In the Millions; doesn't include capital projects.)

Description Amount
General revenue $28.6
Operational Costs -$29.5*
Litigation Costs -$3.6
Interest Costs -$5.3**
Operational Total: -$9.8

The City grossly inflates it's revenue stream; hence, the deficit will be closer to -$14.5 M, not $6.1 M.

The City is grossly inflating the amount of money it brings in. The City inflates it's revenue stream in two categories: (1) the general fund and the (2) internal service fund.

The key finding are as follows: (1) The City is more likely to be bringing in $28.6 M in revenue, not $37.9; (2) the City's operating cost will be at a loss of $9.8 M, and (3) the total loss project for next year, when capital projects are included, is -$14.5 M.

Here's how the actual numbers were figured.

The first red flag in the General Fund is that the City says it's going to make an incredible $4.4 M more this year in a category called "Charges for Services." But in 2016-2017, what the City actually brought in was $2.0 M in this category. (Even then, there's also a problem with these actuals, as the numbers don't match up to the actuals of the previous budget; I suspect they're being fudged to not make these cost increases look so big.) So, how did the projections jump by $2.4 M?

Then the City says it's going to bring in $2 M in marijuana money, called "Community Development Enhancement" fund. This is owed by business that received a marijuana license.

But Tam cleverly shows in her budget that money is put aside. Why? Because it hasn't even been collected yet, and against the City's own contract, Mayor Lozano gave out those licenses and still hasn't collected the money owed to the City. It's questionable if that money will ever be collected.

It appears, that the City is making up revenue, as it did with the successor agency, to make it's numbers look good. But unless that money is in their hands, they don't have $2 M.

Also, the City says it gets money from a vague category called "internal service funds" in the amount of $4.8 M. Apparently, that's money it used to collect but no longer does so. I asked an expert forensic auditor about this category of revenue, and she said that it's not real. Another lie, essentially. In short, the City is alleging $9.2 M more than it actually will have.

So, really after adjusting for all these numbers, the General Fund, which is meant for operational costs, should have about $28.6 M, compared to the City's alleged $37.9 M. (This is still a generous revenue estimate, but because it's more closer aligned to the actual figures of financial year 2015 and 2016, this seems like a more plausible sum.)

Next year the City projects that the operational costs - such as the police department, parks and recreation, and the city administrator - will be $33 M. That means, in operational costs alone the City will be running at a loss of -$4.5 M, $5.3 of which will be in paying just interest on loans. That means, the total operational loss will be $9.8 M.

According to the City's budget, the Capital projects will be running at least a $8.1 M loss. (I believe it's more of a $4.7 M loss, because the City adds loans on the interest payment in capital projects, which it is not.) Hence, when you add the operational losses with the capital losses, for next year, the City will be running at -$14.5 M loss, ($9.8 M in operations, and at least $4.7 M in capital projects).

City officials and employees in total will get $1.7 M in raises, even when the City will overspend -$14.5 M next year.

Although the City will be overspending -$14.5 M next year, -$9.8 M of which is for operational costs, such as payroll, litigation expenses, and interest loan payments. The City wants us to believe that it's almost running at $0 loss. But that's far from the truth.

This is how the City tries to deceive us. Next year, the City estimates it will be spending $33 M. If you go with the City's figure, because it brings in at least $33 M in the general fund, there won't be a loss.

But if you go with my estimated revenue stream of $28.6, the City will be running at an actual loss of -$4.4 M in departmental expenses, and another $5.3 in paying interest on its loans.

Here's who's going to get these raises.

-The City Council and City Clerk, asked for a total raise of $238,000+.
-The City treasurer asked for a $7,000 raise.
-The Police administration, such as Captain, perhaps even lieutenants, will get $227,000+.
-The Police Chief, Michael Taylor and his Chief department alone will get $209,000+.
-Rose Tam and her finance department will get $196,000+. (This is a lot of money, considering there are only 8 staff members in Finance. Rose didn't tell us how much is going to her alone.)
-The CEO, Shannon Yauchtzee, asked for $119,000+.
-Parks and Recreation Director, Manuel Carrillo, and his department will get $94,000+.
-The Public Works Director, Sam Gutierrez, and his department will get $67,000+.
-Community development Director, Andre Dupre, will get $25,000.
-Community development, for the Community Development block grant will get $410,000+.
-Of all the departments, the police department got the largest raise, which totals $770,000+.

Hence, the increase in cost of the city officials, the directors, and the top police brass totals $1.2 M out of the $1.7 M budgeted for departmental increase. In other words, 71% of all the raises is only going to the City officials, directors, and police brass and their departments. (This the same city, who gave the head boxing coach a 40 cent an hour raise before firing him. He worked there for the City for 20 years.)

The City hides it's legal costs of an estimated $3.62 M.

The City has it's legal costs spread out in different categories, rather than in one. There's a strong possibility this is being done to hide the real legal costs of the City and the true pay of the city attorney.

The City codes legal costs to the city attorney's office; under various departmental expenses, such as the police and administration; and under nondepartmental costs.

It appears that the largest and most alarming increase in litigation costs is in the non-departmental category, which has increased over $2 M. It appears this is the cost of the City's litigation insurance, which will be $2 M more next year. This generally happens because the insurance actuaries figured that Baldwin Park is too risky to insure, because it's chances of getting sued and losing big damages are incredibly high.

The actual costs of litigation cannot be deciphered in the City Budget. In 2016 - the contracted law firm of Tafoya and Garcia LLC charged the City over $614,000. In 2017, the city attorney charged the City $442,000 and projects to do the same for next year. (It could be much more, as we don't know if the City Attorney charged under other billing codes, which he at least did for administration and the police department.)

Nonetheless, besides hiding litigation expenses by different departments, litigation expenses have also been charged under the categories of "non-departmental" either "contractual services" or "transfer outs" or perhaps both. Besides Tafoya and Garcia, the City has outsourced legal work to at least three other law firms. In 2016, contractual services cost the City $1.01 M. Transfer out costs came to $920,000. Hence, a best guess of the legal fees being charged to the City is around $1.62 M a year.

Hence, legal costs for the next financial year is estimated cost $3.62 (legal fees and litigation insurance).

The City hides it's interest payments of $5.3 M a year.

What's not clear is how much interest the city will owe on the $119 million it's borrowed. The answer is obscured by the confusing breakdown of costs of the successor agency and the names of the various capital projects. (I think of interest payments on existing debt as part of the operational costs; so that's where I added it.)

Another big problem with the budget is that the City doesn't anticipate the interest it has to pay on it's pension bond of $55 M. But it does conveniently remove the cost it won't have to pay CalPERS - which again makes the numbers look better.

The interest the city has to pay on it's loans is estimated to be $5.3 M. The city alleges that its interest payments are about $3.4 M through its successor agency. But again, the city didn't add the interest payment it has to pay on the $55 M bond it wants to get. And if it doesn't get it, it needs to add back the interest payment it owes CalPERS.

A second check shows that $5.3 M is a reasonable estimate of the interest the city owes on its debt. The City owes at least $119 M. An average of 5% interest would make the yearly payment equal $6 M. So, that means the debt is anywhere between $5.3 - $6 M, assuming we found all their loans.

Key findings and Red Flags

The budget is riddled with red flags, stressing problems with accountability and oversight. Besides all the findings presented above, the City has not disclosed on its budgets that it owes $119 M (which is a combination of the pension debt and the loans it owes). In other financial statements, it's made up that it has $22 M in assets in a phantom successor agency. (Isn't that called lying?)

The City budget also doesn't reflect how much it has currently in all of it's bank account. Revenue streams are also missing.

The two big revenue streams missing is how much cash does the recreation program bring in for the City? (Is Carrillo pocketing the money himself?) Also, where is the income stream from the police asset forfeiture or the Baldwin Park Franchise Fund? Are these numbers not being reported, because players are taking this money for themselves?

Also, do the city council meetings reflect when all these financial decisions were made, and when, and why? Under the Brown Act, which requires transparency in government decision making, these decisions should have been presented to the public - before it went into a cryptic and confusing and "cooked" budget report.

It appears that the City's strategy for justifying the lucrative raises it wants to give itself next year is being done by misrepresenting how much money it actually brings in, hiding its debt and the accruing interest, and underestimating the cost of contractors (including the city attorney and legal services).

Thus, 31% of the City's operational costs are going to paying loan interest and litigation costs. Instead of fixing the problem though, city officials, management, and brass have all given themselves raises though.

Conclusion: Future Concerns

This report hasn't explored why the City is expecting to run a loss of -$4.7 to -8.1 M in capital projects. I wonder if this is because it plans to launder the $55 M bond money through contractors involving capital projects. The City of Beaumont did the same thing. It stole $43 million with over 40 secret bank accounts, primarily by using contractors.

At this rate, it won't be long before the City will have to file bankruptcy. Tam's best representation of the reserves is at $14 M. When I looked at the books years ago, it was at $6 M. So, running at a $14.5 M loss would require the City to exhaust its reserves or to go out for loan. (This makes me think that the $55 M bond it's going out for will have to pay some of the current operational cost, and not be used for its intended purpose of paying out the CalPERS debt.)

Although the $55 M bond the city is seeking may buy it 2-3 more years, because a third of its budget is on litigation costs and interest on loans, it cannot continue maintaining operating costs at this level at the current revenue stream. Imagine, if a third of your income went to paying off credit card interest alone.

Although it may be illegal for the City to do so, documents obtained by public records act requests have shown that the City put up the Recreation Center, donated by one the founders of In-n-Out, as collateral to U.S. Bank for all the loans. Hence, the children and senior citizens can lose their recreational programs, because of the city's financial mis-management and corruption.

What I think this is showing, and I'll write a follow up article, is that these city officials and directors want to take out a big $55 M pension bond to give themselves raises and retire lavishly. Follow up article to come.

This case study of dissecting and reconstructing Baldwin Park's budget stresses the problems with oversight and accountability regarding local government. The solution will require processes, law, and enforcement of law to hold accountable those who engage in deceptive practices, such as the one potentially illustrated here. As I studied in Animal Farm: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

*I've taken out the litigation cost from the $33 M reported by the city, to show it as it's own category.
**The City's put loan interest payments as a capital cost, but it's an operational cost to me. I've removed it as a capital cost, and put it as an operational cost.

By Banksy
It's come down to us checking everything our government does.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Understanding the Municipal Bond Market Scam - a California Trend

By Banksy
Once upon a time, local government bonds were considered a safe haven, where it was guaranteed you would get your money back with some earned interest. But recent local government bankruptcies challenge that notion. Since 1994 - starting with Orange County - governments have been filing bankruptcies in the billions of dollars. Investors should not put blind faith in local agency bonds, especially in corruption-stricken cities. It is highly likely bondholders will lose their investments when such local corrupt agencies file bankruptcy. As an example to stress in alarming trend in California and perhaps elsewhere, this article will show how the City of Baldwin Park misrepresents its financial accounting to deceive investors.

Before understanding the California municipal bond crisis, we need to look at the Godfather of corporate scandal: Enron. Enron was an energy company that engaged in "cooking the books" by stating every quarter it was earning incredible profits, when it was actually hemorrhaging money. In a nutshell, Enron did this by hiding their losses in other alter-ego corporations. Hence, Enron's books always showed it was making a profit. (It was also gauging California's deregulated energy market.)

Although this is obvious, the basic rule of investing is that investors want to put their money in winners and not losers, because winners will bring you back more money over time. Enron looked like a winner. It kept reporting profits, but it was really a sinking ship.

At the end of the day, Enron executives, like Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling fleeced not only investors, but also employees from their pensions. The main takeaway point is that Enron had to lie about its finances, so investors would keep putting money in. Only then, could the Enron executives steal stockholder funds.

Let's come back to Baldwin Park, which is doing the same thing. Yet, cities can't sell stock. Instead, they sell bonds - which means investors are guaranteed to get their money back, plus interest in loaning government agencies money. (What they don't tell you, is you don't get your promised money back if the local agency files for bankruptcy.)

So, like Enron, Baldwin Park has made the City's finances look good, when it's really a sinking ship. The city's finance director, Rose Tam, did this in at least two ways, possibly three. First, it alleges that it has $22 million more in assets in something called the Baldwin Park Successor Agency. But in 2013, Tam reported that the Successor Agency owes $64 million.

It can't be true that the Successor Agency is in the plus and negative at the same time. Can something be boiling hot and freezing cold at the same time? No. It appears that this is an outright lie.

Second, also like Enron, the City took the employees' pension. The City has $51 million more in pension debt than its reporting. In other words, the City's financial statement doesn't reflect this owed money.

Like Enron, it took pension money from the employees, and never put it with its investment agency, CalPERS. In total, Baldwin Park owes at least $119 million, very little which appears to be in assets. (I reported earlier it was $117 million, but I found another loan recently for $2 million).  That's almost 400% or 4 times the amount of debt compared to the income stream the city brings in per year.

To give an analogy, Mark makes $60,000 a year, but Mark has $240,000 in credit card debt, which is growing still. Almost $100,000 of that is at a really high interest rate. He needs to borrow more to pay off the ballooning old loans. He asks you to borrow some money and promises to pay you back with interest. Do you believe him? Would you loan him the money?

Third, the City alleges it has $12-$14 million in cash. But when I looked at the books, there was more like $6-$8 million. The city refuses to provide proof in the form of bank statements that it has this much money.

Since I wrote my last article, there have been other red flags that echo the Enron scandal. Enron hired the firm Arthur Anderson to audit its books. Guess who else used Arthur Anderson? Worldcom. And Worldcom, at that time point, was the largest bankruptcy in human history, at $3.8 billion. (Bernie Madoff later broke that record.) Arthur Anderson was complicit in both corporations' accounting fraud.

Like Enron, the City's independent accounting firm, Vasquez & Company LLC is in hot water. As of March 2013, Los Angeles County has sued Vasquez for $9 million for not doing its basic job in auditing. Apparently, a scam artist, under a nonprofit, fleeced the county and other agencies out of millions.

Has the Vasquez company been doing its job when it verifies Baldwin Park's audit? I don't think so; if it did, it would have asked questions about this Successor Agency like I'm doing.

Also, a red flag is that a family member of Baldwin Park's former Mayor is associated with the underwriter (the entity that will loan the city the money) of its forthcoming bond for $55 million. Two sources allege that Carmen Vargas, Vice-President of Ramirez & Co., the underwriter, is the sister of Fidel Vargas, former Mayor of Baldwin Park. These facts highlight the lack of independent oversight by interrelating agencies.

I've been asking numerous questions about Baldwin Park's finances currently. Allegedly, the city attorney (and others) have ordered for the finance director not answer any of my questions by email. Then, the city said it would answer all my requests by public records act requests. Now the city says it won't send me any letters by public records act, because I haven't purchased a business license this year, but I haven't even been residing in Baldwin Park for over a year. And one doesn't need a business license to make a public records act request.

Like Enron, questions into the city's financing are met by fierce hostility. The ex-CEO of Enron called an analyst an "a**hole" after he asked for Enron's balance sheet.

But unlike Enron, Baldwin Park is not a corporation; it's a government agency. Under law, the City must provide answers and not give taxpayers the runarounds, because a city exists to supposedly serve the people. If questions are asked, especially basic ones about the city's finances, answer must be provided. But like Enron, under violation of law, the City refuses to provide an accurate balance statement of how much it really owes. If everything was really clean, the city would have no problem easily and quickly answering basic questions.

Currently, it appears that California's municipal bond market may be one alarming scandalous trend. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) for potential fraud with the issuance of their bond. (Incidentally, the financial officer at MUSD is Mark Scavarny, former Superintendent of Baldwin Park School District.) Like Baldwin Park, the underwriter for MUSD's bond is Ramirez & Co. Also, the SEC popped the City of Beaumont for also cooking the books. Later, news surfaces that $43 million was embezzled through over 40 bank accounts. Including Baldwin Park, here are at least three cases that show a trend in potential bond fraud.

Given that the Parks and Recreation Director, Manuel Carrillo has been caught laundering money through his sham nonprofit, I wouldn't be surprised if he's been doing this for previous bonds and wants to do this with the ones coming up. (It almost makes me wonder if this whole bond racket is a money laundering scheme, like the one Bernie Madoff was involved in.)

How do we proceed from here?

Investors and bondholders need more answers. Like Enron, how much did Baldwin Park loan its officers and employees? It won't say.

Also, like Enron, where did the previous $66 million that was borrowed go? Accounting needs to be provided.

And finally like Enron, you know an entity is at the end of its ropes, when its borrowing new money to pay off old debt, which is known in the trade as a Ponzi scheme. So, let's get this straight - Baldwin Park wants to borrow $55 million to pay off existing pension debt.

It almost sounds like taking a cash advance on your credit card to pay off part of the mortgage. You heard it here first: If it's a municipal bond from California that's babbling "Buy me" - stay away. "[I]t's Californication."