In general, I try to avoid reaching a conclusion that people are trying to hide something until I have clear reason to believe they are. The standard I usually follow is governed by the amount of inconsequential information that is concealed when I start asking questions. If I get most of what I am asking for without much trouble, I tend to believe that no one is trying to hide anything or protect anyone. When I don’t get the information I’m looking for, I verify that there isn’t a legitimate reason for me to not have access. If there isn’t, I start to wonder; what is being hidden and who is being protected?
Such is the case with the ever-blooming scandal we call QuachGate. What started out as an elected official having a car accident while under the influence of alcohol and knocking out power to 300 city residents, has evolved into a convoluted web of misinformation, late information, conflicting information, obstruction of access to public information, violations of conditional use permits by local businesses, and favorable treatment for elected officials and their friends.
When Andy Quach pleaded guilty yesterday to all charges, the book was closed on the DUI portion of this story. It is unlikely that we will get much more information related to the accident.
At the center of the broader story here is the termed-out Assemblyman for the 68th Assembly District and Republican Candidate for Congress in the 47th Congressional District Van Tran. Tran rose to power initiallyÂ when he was elected to theÂ Garden Grove City Council in 2000. Since that time, Tran has assembled a cadre of other local elected officials in central Orange County known as the “Gang of Seven.” Among the members of the “Gang of Seven” involved in QuachGate, in addition to Assemblyman Van Tran, are Westminster Councilmen Andy Quach and Truong “Tyler” Diep.
On Sunday August 2nd, The Orange County Register published the story of a power outage in Westminster caused by a suspected drunk driver. Later that day, after the reporter was tipped off that the person involved was a Westminster City Councilman, the story was updated to include that information with quotes from Councilman Quach offering up apologies and a pledged commitment to take full responsibility for his negligance.Quach initially told Viet Bao Daily News here: I was â€œsleepy, becauseÂ I was working too hard.â€Â
On Monday August 3rd, we learned that what was initially reported as a single car accident by the Westminster Police actually involved a second vehicle with three occupants. The Police Department reported that the failure to disclose this information was simply an oversight that was corrected immediately upon discovery. Of particular note to those of us actually digging into this case, during the time period between the accidentÂ and theÂ release of the information about the second vehicle, the victims had retained lawyers and were refusing to respond to media inquiry’s about the accident.
On August 4th I followed up on the developing story with more details about what Andy Quach had been up to on the night of his accident and who he had been with.Â At that point I had determined that Quach had been with Tran and Councilman Tyler Diep at a meeting that evening with political contributors to Van Tran’s congressional campaign. I had determined that Tran and Quach had at some point been at the Westminster restaurant Citryst located at 15440 Brookhurst Street for a meeting with contributors. I mapped out the possibility that Quach was driving Assemblyman Tran home from that meeting, which would explain why he was across town from where he supposedly lived when he had his accident.
On the afternoon of August 4th, it was revealed that Van Tran had indeed been at the scene of the accident and had been with Quach and Diep earlier that evening.Â According to initial reports, Tran, Diep and Quach had been at West Coast Seafood Buffet at 15440 Beach Blvd. earlier that evening with Assemblyman Tran stating that he left Quach at that restaurant at around 10 pm. The owner claims that all guests had left the restaurant at around 10:45 pm and that he left at 11:00 pm.
With regard to Tran being at the accident scene, Tran told the Register that he had responded to a unintelligible call from Quach and came to the accident scene to help and support his friend. Tran told the Orange County Register:
“I live less than a mile away from where the accident scene was,” he said. “I was at home reading and got a call from Andy. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he wanted me to come and it sure sounded like an emergency.”
Tran said he immediately headed out to the scene of the crash.
“I was at the scene as a friend,” he said.
Tran said when he got to the scene, Quach appeared distraught and shaken up.
“He wasn’t bleeding, but I know he was injured in the accident,” he said.
It’s definitely an “adverse situation” for any politician to face, Tran said, referring to the political consequences of Quach’s arrest.
Tran says he believes Quach can “turn this around.”
“I believe that he is sincerely contrite,” he said. “He is assuming responsibility for his actions â€“ whether it was DUI or negligence.”
The obvious question that wasn’t asked of Tran by the Register was; “if you couldn’t make out what he was saying, how did you know where to go?” Tran has refused to respond to our inquiry on that point.
Later the same afternoon, the District Attorney released a statement that they had filed a misdemeanor DUI charge against Councilman Quach for driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.26%, more than 3 times the legal limit of 0.08%. This accident was hardly an instance of falling to sleep while driving due to negligence.
On Thursday August 6th it was revealed that Assemblyman Van Tran had to be threatened with arrest during the investigation at the accident scene for repeatedly interfering with officers claiming to be Quach’s attorney. Chief Andy Hall told the Orange County Register referencing transcripts of the officers recordings:
Assemblyman Tran arrived about 13 minutes after the accident.
“I’m with Andy,” Tran told police. “I’m his lawyer.”
Tran showed no signs of injury or of having been in an accident, Hall said.
Tran was told to step back and away from the scene. Although he complied briefly, he stepped back in and a sergeant had to tell him one more time to stand back, Hall said.
Two minutes later, Hall said, Tran approached the officers one more time and distracted Quach to the extent that it interrupted the field sobriety test that was being administered by a DUI expert.
According to the transcript of recordings made by police that day, the sergeant told Tran: “Sir, I’ve asked you to back up over there.”
“I’m his lawyer,” Tran told the officer.
“I don’t care who you are, you need to back up over there,” the sergeant told Tran. “I understand you’re his attorney but you are interfering. You need to stand over there. If you come back over here, I’m going to have you arrested.”
With all of these inconsistencies cropping up,Â I launched into a series of public records requests related to the accident. I asked for the transcripts that Chief Hall referenced in the Register regarding Van Tran’s involvement, I asked for the booking photo, accident scene photos, exactlyÂ how long Councilman Quach was in custody, and information regarding incidents related to Citryst Restaurant where Council members may have intervened.
While waiting patiently for a response, the Register reported August 17thÂ on Tyler Diep’s altercation with the Westminster Police Department regarding their business checks of Citryst Restaurant on February 6, 2009. Two days later, twelve days after my request for records,Â the City of Westminster declined to provide most of the information I had requested. The City Attorney’s officeÂ refused to release the transcripts they had already released to the Register, they refused to release any additionalÂ details related to the accident, they refused to release the booking photo for Andy Quach, and they claimed there were no instances on record regarding incidents at Citryst where Council Members had intervened, two days after that very fact had already been released to the Register. The other strange part of their inability to find records was that I had already told them what I was looking for, naming the specific date of the incident involving Councilman Diep, which I had found in planning commission records regarding the Police Department’s request to suspend and terminate the Conditional Use Permit (CUP)Â for Citryst Restaurant.
So here we have the City apparentlyÂ not wanting to release any information. We have the only witnesses not talking to the media. We have Councilman Quach and Assemblyman Tran declining to respond to our inquiries. We have a the restaurant where Quach and Tran were at some point that evening, most likely immediately before the accident the subject of a CUP suspension appeal and revocation request that Councilman Quach pulled off the City Council Agenda two months earlier.Â We have one of the participants in the late night fundraising meeting with Tran and Quach being pulled over on suspicion of DUI in front of Citryst two minutes before Quach’s accident.
So then we get the icing on the cake. In the August 17th OC Register story it was reported:
Citryst’s name came up again after Quach’s recent DUI arrest. Police got a tip that the councilman was at Citryst the night of Aug. 1, right before the crash, Schoonmaker said.
Quach has denied being at the Citryst and says he left West Coast Seafood Buffet on Beach Boulevard before the accident. Police say Citryst’s connection to the DUI incident remains a mystery. West Coast is also being investigated by the ABC for possible violations.
Police got the surveillance video from Citryst for that night, Schoonmaker said. The restaurant’s conditional use permit requires it to submit the video on demand from the police chief.
Nguyen told police she had turned off the surveillance camera at 10:30 that night, although she was required to keep it on until midnight, Schoonmaker said.
“So, the answer is, we don’t know if Quach was or was not at Citryst that night,” he said. “We had to conclude that he was at West Coast Buffet based on another conflicting report that Quach was there until midnight.”
The Bolsavik reportedÂ on his blog onÂ August 29thÂ that the City of Westminster will not be taking any action against Citryst for the apparent, and very convenient, loss of their video recordings after 10:30 pm the night of Quach’s accident.
I corresponded with Westminster Police Chief Andy Hall on Tuesday of this week after he returned from a two week vacation. Finally I can report that there are a few things we can clear up.Â On the matter of any possible actions being taken by the city against the owners of Citryst and West Coast Seafood Buffet regarding possible violations of their CUP’s, Hall told me:
“The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they turn. There will be further action taken in regard to both Cytrist and West Coast Seafood Buffet.Â These processes began before I left for vacation and are moving forward.Â They are administrative in nature and should appear on the Planning Commission’s agenda soon.”
Hall’s return also cleared up some burning questions I had regarding whether someone else was in the car with Quach at the time of his accident. I had hoped that accident scene photos would clear up the question by showing the condition of the passenger side air bags, but they will not be forthcoming. However Chief Hall was able to help clear the question up.
“The airbag did deploy but we checked with Fletcher Jones and they said on a major impact of that type, it would not be uncommon.Â They told us nothing could be concluded by the passenger side deployment,” Hall said.
The threads of connection between events are starting to resemble ropes, and the web of obstruction spun by the Westminster City Attorney had beenÂ getting so thick, that I was left with only one possible conclusion.
The City of Westminster is most likely complicit in the concealment of the actual events on the night of Councilman Andy Quach’s accident. The police department has failed to investigate the simple question of the inconsistent event time lines offered by Quach, Tran, and other witnesses.Â The police department has assumed that Assemblyman Van Tran was not in the vehicle with Quach simply because he approached the scene 13 minutes after the accident and looked uninjured. The booking photo of Quach shows that he had no visible signs of injury so that is slim justification for their assumption.
I can say now, with relative certainty, that there is no conclusive evidence that Van Tran was actually in the car with Andy Quach at the time of his accident. Unless someone can produce some conclusive evidence otherwise, that dog just won’t hunt. As far as cooperation is concerned, Chief Hall has been the only person forthcoming during our investigation. I learned more in the first day of his return from vacation than I had in the entire previous month.
I still wonder thoughÂ what makes Van Tran, Tyler Diep, and Andy Quach so powerful in Westminster that the Police are willing to let a DUI suspect out of custody, without bond, in half the time most suspects are held? What makes these boys so special that causes the City Attorney to withhold or delay the release of information regarding a DUI accident such as the number of vehicles involved, which direction they were travelling, and other information that would have helped answer weeks of speculation?”
I am left still with only one conclusion at this point in time. The City Attorney must have “gotten the memo” that Tyler Diep talked to the police department about on February 7, 2009. This would be the memo that says the police , and apparently city officials, are to look the other way where Tran, Diep, Quach, and their “friends” are involved. I guess that’s just “business as usual” in Van Tran’s empire of Little Saigon.
With the DUI charges settled on Wednesday with Andy Quach’s guilty plea, that portion of the story is closed. What happens in the aftermath of QuachGate is still an open question. We are still looking into the influence that individual Council members may have over investigations and administrative procedures. We are still exploring whether undisclosed conflicts of interest may exist.
The current chapter of QuachGate is now closed, but our Bull Dog investigation is far from over.