At this week’s Milpitas City Council meeting, resident Chris Martin spoke out forcefully against Vice Mayor Carmen Montano, accusing her of falsifying documents and committing perjury.
For the past two months, on social media, Martin has been accusing Montano of accepting a travel gift over the allowable limit in April 2019, as well as attempting to cover it up on her Form 700.
A Form 700 is a Statement of Economic Interest that public officials must fill out in order to disclose their financial interests. Doing so keeps the public informed about any potential conflicts that might affect a public official’s decision-making.
“It’s not really about you accepting inappropriate travel gifts. It’s about integrity, trust, doing the right thing. You lied,” said Martin during Public Comment at the October 18 Council meeting.
Recently, Martin submitted complaints to the California Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC) and the District Attorney’s office about Montano’s alleged violations. Last week, on October 13, the FPPC submitted a letter to Martin stating that they would investigate the allegation but that they have “not made any determination about the validity of the allegation(s).”
On a Form 700 filed in June of 2020, Montano was shown to have received $3,600 from someone named “Dr. William Wang” to attend an event regarding “educational and cultural exchange” which took place in China from April 4th, 2019 to April 10th, 2019. State law restricts the value of gifts public officials can accept to $520; however, there are exceptions. These exceptions include the trip being paid for by a government agency or 501(c)(3), if the public official made a speech, or if the travel was for business.
As stated, the trip was paid for by “Dr. William Wang” and the gift address was shown as 4401 Eucalyptus Ave. in Chino, California, not by a government agency. It is also not stated in the Form 700 that Montano gave a speech at the event.
On the Form 700, Montano, who has worked as a teacher, stated that the purpose of the trip was for her educational business named “Community Classrooms” or “Swing Education.” She stated that the business provides “contractual educational services”; specifically, it “provides mobile teaching, tutoring, educational, and consulting services.” She included, when citing her objective for taking the trip, that she “observed new teaching strategies” for her educational business.
In photos from April 8th, 2019, to April 11th, 2019, nearly the same dates stated in her Form 700, Montano is seen at the 13th annual China Henan International Investment and Trade Fair Dinner Reception. She is also shown to be representing the City of Milpitas, with her name tags in the event photos showcasing her as Councilmember Carmen Montano.
On a social media post about the event made by Samual Kang, a representative for the City Council of the City of Duarte, it was implied that the event was related to trade between other countries and the State of California. It is also shown in the post that Montano was part of the delegation to create partnerships with different cities in the Henan Province. On the program agenda, four key events and thirteen special events for the Trade Fair are listed; none of these events relate to education.
When asked about her education business, Montano told The Beat that she was not able to comment on the case due to the FPPC investigation. She did however state that these allegations were actually coming from her opponents, with Martin delivering the information as a third party, to derail her campaign for Mayor of Milpitas.
“That’s not true,” Martin said in an interview with The Beat. “I think that’s Carmen not wanting to take accountability for her own actions.”
Montano stated that filing FPPC complaints is a strategy that political opponents use to mislead voters, and is confident that her case will be dismissed.
“My opponents don’t realize that the voters of Milpitas are smarter than this,” stated Vice Mayor Montano. “They know which candidates have a history of service in Milpitas and which candidates moved to Milpitas just to run for office.”
Montano went on to state that Councilmember Anthony Phan, one of her opponents in the Milpitas Mayoral election, also took a trip to China in 2017 that exceeded the allowable gift limit.
“It is ironic that my critics are trying to use my transparency against me while ignoring the lack of transparency of Anthony Phan’s FPPC issues and his trip to China in 2017 using city taxpayer monies,” shared Vice Mayor Montano.
The Beat looked into the claim but found that Phan’s China trip had been approved by the Milpitas City Council, and that Phan had officially attended on behalf of the City of Milpitas. Meeting minutes show that costs were paid for by the US China Friendship City Network, a 501(c)(3).
Despite the allegations against her, Montano is hopeful about the residents of Milpitas making the best decision in November’s election: “I ask everyone to be objective and focus on the qualifications, experience, and heart of who they choose as their next Mayor of Milpitas.”