Why’s it so hard for Hoa Van Tran to report expenses?

For the last couple of weeks Red County/OC Blog and The LiberalOC.com have been calling on Orange County First District Supervisor candidate Hoa Van Tran to file amendments to the campaign finance returns he filed for the period ending March 17, 2008, which on the surface appeared to be highly inaccurate.

Jubal/Matt Cunningham at Red County raised the questions in his post here. I’ve been digging into this since early April but had not posted a detailed story because I was still digging. The hole is deep enough now! Follow me on the flip as I delve into the abyss?

TheLiberalOC.com investigation has uncovered solid and irrefutable evidence that Hoa Van Tran failed to report $8,447.12 in expenditures paid by check out of his campaign bank account on or before the initial campaign reporting period ending March 17, 2008. Those expenses were his Candidate Filing Fee, $1,430.42; Candidate Statement Fee, $5,965; salary payment to one campaign staffer, $500; reimbursement to a campaign staffer for purchase of office supplies, $51.70. In addition, our investigation found that an independent contractor was paid $500 to set up office computer network on the weekend of March 16, 2008. We were unable to get a copy of the check to determine if it was issued from the campaign or Hoa Van Tran personally because the vendor cashed it at a check cashing center and did not keep a copy.

The most striking evidence that the campaign may have failed to accurately report expenditures is the range of check numbers between the $500 payment of salary on March 8th; and reimbursement for office equipment ($51.70) on the March 15th. There are at least sixteen checks from the campaign checking account with First Vietnamese American Bank, assuming they started with #1001, that have been used including eleven check numbers separating the payments on the 8th and 15th of March. There are three expenses in the campaign report exceeding $100 that one could presume were paid by campaign check. There are additional non-itemized expenditures of $17.81 which is likely a single payment. That leaves at least ten checks unaccounted for during the filing period. What were these checks used for and why are the expenditures not reported?

To make matters worse, a campaign staffer also claims to have been present with Hoa Van Tran at Costco in Garden Grove on or about March 12th and picked out two desktop computers, one laptop computer, one laser printer, one network router, and three licensed copies of Microsoft Office software for use by the campaign. The staffer recalls the amount of the purchase exceeding $5,000. Mr. Tran had taken a campaign check with him to pay for the computers but because he was a new Costco member, and the check was drawn on a campaign bank account, the check could not be honored. Mr. Tran then returned the staff member to the office and went to arrange for a credit card, bank check, or money order to complete the purchase of the equipment. Mr. Tran returned later that day with the computers purchased from Costco.

According to campaign staffers, campaign manager Edgardo Reynoso, and Mr. Tran, often paid cash for gas for Mr. Tran’s personal SUV used by the campaign, cash for gas used by volunteers in their personal vehicles, as well as for food and beverages for volunteers during the reporting period. These expenses were not disclosed in the campaign finance report. Also unreported is any salary for Mr. Reynoso, (allegedly between $3,000 and $5,000 per month) and disclosure of the hotel accommodations at the Ramada Inn Garden Grove arranged for Reynoso by Phu Do Nguyen, Tran’s campaign treasurer. Although Reynoso started working for the campaign around March 1, 2008, no salary payment, or accrued liability for salary was reported. Conservatively, our investigation has found that between $16,000 and $17,000 in expenditures, made on or before March 17, 2008, were not disclosed in the March 17th disclosure statement.

Campaign finance reporting regulations require that all expenses incurred during a reporting period be disclosed and that the treasurer ensure that the disclosure reports are complete and accurate. The treasurer must attest to the accuracy of campaign disclosure reports under penalty of perjury. All campaign related expenses are to be paid with campaign funds and not personal funds. A campaign treasurer is required to correct any inaccuracies or omissions, and inquire about any information that would cause a reasonable person to question the accuracy of the campaign statements. A treasurer must also check and, if necessary, correct information contained on a campaign statement, which a reasonable, prudent person might question. Both the candidate and the treasurer are responsible for the accuracy of campaign disclosure reports.

A senior official from Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC) spoke to Phu Do Nguyen as early as April 9, 2008 to express concern over the accuracy of their reports. The official produced email correspondence with the campaign verifying that those concerns were raised.

DPOC Executive Director Melahat Rafiei, told TheLiberalOC.com that Party Chairman Frank Barbaro has personally contacted the campaign to express serious concern over the filing discrepancies and has advised the campaign to “clean up its act and amend their returns if there is a problem.”

Democrats have been critical of Republican elected officials and candidates in Orange County over similar issues in the past. Hinky campaign reporting and financial activities are not things that represent the values of democrats or the DPOC. This kind of stuff is what we scream about Republicans doing. We can’t now sit back and ignore the seriousness of these brazenly apparent violations of campaign finance reporting laws.

For the good of his campaign, for the good of all democratic candidates in Orange County, for the good of his own name and standing in the community; Hoa Van Tran should file amended financial reports immediately. His failure to do so only serves to raise concern that if he can’t report his expenses accurately, why should we expect his contribution reports to be accurate?

I hope that, now that this information has been publicly revealed, a community watchdog like Shirley Grindle will file a complaint with the appropriate authorities to force Hoa Van Tran to accurately report his campaign’s financial activity. Just in case, I have forwarded everything I have found to Shirley.

Bolsavik in an interview posted on May 2, 2008 reported:

On the financial disclosures for the period ending March 17, Reynoso said, “We’re having our treasurer go through everything. If,” and he emphasized if, “if there was any mistake, there would be an amended report.”

“There was nothing illegal, wrong or inappropriate,” Reynoso said.

Something tells me that Reynoso isn’t about to change his tune. For the record, I’m resetting the Hoa amendment clock backwards to April 9th. As of May 8th, we’ve been waiting 29 days. Jubal/Matt, please make a note of it.

  7 comments for “Why’s it so hard for Hoa Van Tran to report expenses?

  1. Flowerszzz
    May 8, 2008 at 7:12 am

    Why don’t you guys file a complaint or call Shirley Grindle to do it?

  2. May 8, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Flowerszz:

    I said:

    I hope that, now that this information has been publicly revealed, a community watchdog like Shirley Grindle will file a complaint with the appropriate authorities to force Hoa Van Tran to accurately report his campaign’s financial activity. Just in case, I have forwarded everything I have found to Shirley.

  3. May 8, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Very nice.

    Excellent investigation.

    Just one footnote: The networking guy working on March 16 may have been from BC Telecommunication and if so payment made for that was disclosed on the form.

  4. May 8, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Good thought Bosavik, but no It cannot be BC Communications.The check was made payable to an indiidual and not a company. Also the individual lives outside of OC.

  5. Dan Chmielewski
    May 8, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Chris — nice piece of investigative journalism here. The Hoa campaign needs to resolve these issues as soon as possible. So between Dina screwing up her own filings, Janet’s defense fund fiasco, and Hoa’s financial problms, can any candidate in this district be trusted with the taxpayers’ checkbook?

  6. May 8, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Dan,

    Short answer. NO!

  7. FLowerszzz
    May 8, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    LOL sorry Chris I “scanned” the post. Good job!

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