California’s political watchdog is investigating a Milpitas official running for mayor after a resident accused her of falsifying information on campaign forms.
The Fair Political Practices Commission confirmed in a letter to Milpitas resident Christopher Martin that it has opened a case to look into the complaint against Vice Mayor Carmen Montano, which alleges she may have lied on a financial interest form about the purpose of a trip to China in April 2019.
The FPPC confirmation letter notes the agency has not yet “made any determination about the validity of the allegation(s)” made against Montano, or her culpability.
As an elected official, Montano is required by the state’s Political Reform Act to annually fill out a statement of economic interest, also known as a form 700, which helps the public learn about government officials’ personal financial interests to help avoid potential conflicts of interest.
San José Spotlight viewed the letter sent to Martin confirming the investigation. FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga said the state agency doesn’t comment on specific cases or investigations. Wierenga did say anyone who violates the Political Reform Act can face a range of penalties, from a warning letter or up to $5,000 per violation.
Montano, a former teacher and school board member, is currently running for mayor of Milpitas in a crowded field of six candidates, including two of her council colleagues, Karina Dominguez and Anthony Phan. Also running for the office is council meeting fixture Voltaire Montemayor, mobile home builder Franco Perez and coffee shop owner Ola Hassan.
Martin, who filed the FPPC complaint, said he’s concerned Montano may have lied on her campaign documents when she’s running on a platform of experience and trust.
“I can’t trust that you’re going to do the right thing when no one is looking,” Martin told San José Spotlight. “If you’re going to willingly perjure yourself to cover up what you did, how can we trust you as mayor?”
On her form 700 filed in 2020, Montano claimed she was gifted travel to the Henan province in China to visit the “No. 1 Middle School of Wuzhi.” The trip was from April 4-10, 2019 and cost $3,600, paid for by Dr. William Wang of Chino, California, according to the form.
Montano wrote the purpose of the trip was to observe “new teaching strategies for my educational business,” but online photos and social media posts from Chinese businesses and other elected officials indicate the trip was a trade mission made in her official capacity as a councilmember.
Montano did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Photos from China
Under FPPC regulations, elected officials can only accept gifts worth up to $520, though there are exceptions to that cap if the travel is for business, or if the travel is paid for by a nonprofit. On her form, Montano indicated the travel was for her business, but also checked a box indicating the travel was paid for by a nonprofit.
But photos on international websites, including one for a Chinese pharmaceutical supplier BOAI NKY Pharmaceuticals, show Montano with a “political and business delegation from California” visiting the company. The photo caption says the delegation was in the province to participate in the Henan International Investment Fair.
The caption of another photo showing Montano in what appears to be the lobby of the company’s building refers to her as a city councilor from Milpitas. She is seen in the photo smiling with a company vice president, Wang Jianqiang. One other photo shows Montano among a group of people viewing a presentation from Jianqiang in a conference room.
BOAI NKY Pharmaceuticals at the time owned a Milpitas-based biochemical supply company called Biovision, which it sold to Abcam in 2021 for $340 million, and formed a partnership with Abcam, according to an Abcam press release. The photo caption said Montano “was very surprised & excited about our acquisition of BioVision.”
The photo caption also said Montano is “willing to do the best to motivate interactions between Chinese and US companies for healthy & rapid growth in business.”
In photos posted to the LinkedIn profile of Samuel Kang, a city councilmember in Duarte, California, Montano is seen with Kang and other Central Valley and Southern California elected officials at the dinner reception for the investment fair. Montano can be seen wearing a reception badge labeled “VIP.”
Kang also made several other posts about the trip to China, including photos of Montano, calling the trip a successful trade mission where the delegation met with city and regional business leaders and elected officials.
“A Californian delegation from County of Merced, City of Huron, City of Milpitas, City of Cudahy, City of Duarte, University of California, Irvine is working hard to create partnerships with different cities in Henan Province,” Kang wrote on one of the posts.