Did Fiona Ma conspire to help Gerry Serrano jack up his pension?

EDITOR: In some good news for the Orange Juice Blog, journalist Duane Roberts has given us permission to cross-post his fine, well-researched Anaheim Investigator articles. (“Cross-posting” means posting about half the article here as a teaser, and linking to the rest.) Duane’s latest bombshell from last week led to the outraged Register column copied to the right (although the word “tawdry,” if you look it up, does not seem le mot just – they meant “sleazy.”)

Duane’s scoop features what seems a very unlikely duo:

Fiona Ma, the putatively “progressive” California treasurer who hails from San Francisco and has recently been accused of sexually harassing female underlings; and

Gerry Serrano, the controversial, greedy, corrupt, drunk-driving Santa Ana Police Union chief, who for some reason is also very close to Anaheim Councilman Avelino Valencia.

So without further ado, here is Anaheim Investigator Duane Roberts:

Internal emails The Anaheim Investigator obtained from the California State Treasurer’s Office show that Fiona Ma, the state treasurer, tried to help Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, increase his pension, by backing two new laws that would exempt him from rules which prohibit the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) from giving him service credit for “special compensation” earned while on a leave of absence from his duties as a police sergeant.

Though an attempt to add them to a bill going through the state senate failed, the emails suggest Ma, her executive staff, and employees of CalPERS not only drafted these new laws for Serrano’s benefit, but that they even shared the proposed text with him. Furthermore, while all of this was occurring, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee funneled $15,900 into the state treasurer’s bid to get re-elected, making them one of her biggest campaign contributors.

The Voice of OC was the first news outlet to break the story about Serrano’s aggressive efforts to “boost” his pension. In an article published last August, they made public letters, including one written by Sonia R. Carvalho, the Santa Ana City Attorney, who summed up the police union president’s goal: “During conversations between Mr. Serrano and the City’s special legal counsel, we understand that Mr. Serrano has expectations for an increase in his pension by up to $60,000 per year,” she said.

But at that time, journalists were preoccupied about what Serrano was doing at the local level. Nobody knew he had been in direct contact with Ma, who was pulling strings for him in Sacramento. The relationship between the two grew so friendly that the state treasurer actually listed him as a contact for a fundraiser she hosted for Tina Arias Miller, a Rancho Santiago Community College District Trusteewho is also the girlfriend of Ernesto “Ernie” Amado Conde, one of Serrano’s most trusted associates.

(Ma listed Serrano as a contact for this Miller fundraiser.)

Emails reviewed by The Investigator show Serrano first began communicating with Ma on September 17, 2020. “My apologies for reaching out,” he wrote, “but I’m in dire need of some assistance resolving a minor issue with a CalPERS audit in regards to specifically my pensionable compensation.” For the most part, the state treasurer remained courteous but faintly aloof, asking Marcie FrostChief Executive Officer of CalPERS, and members of her executive staff, to look into this matter for her.

From September to October, a flurry of messages were exchanged between SerranoMa, her executive staff, and CalPERS employees, all focused on resolving his problem. But the issue here, as one auditor wrote, is when Serrano became police union president, his pay was lowered. The City of Santa Ana gave him “special compensation” to make up for it. However, since he was the only one getting this type of pay, and was on a leave of absence from the city, these earnings weren’t “pensionable” per CalPERS rules.

By mid-October, it appears that once Serrano began to realize he was at an impasse with CalPERS and wouldn’t be getting what he wanted, his emails to the State Treasurer’s Office suddenly came to an abrupt halt. All discussions about his pension ceased. There are no public records indicating that Ma nor any members of her executive staff had any further communications with him about this matter in 2020. But five months later, there was a new development. And here is where the real story begins…

Read the rest of this horrifying story at the Anaheim Investigator!

About Duane Roberts