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latest news FBI Corruption Investigation Reveals Who Runs Anaheim

A year and a half ago, two Anaheim power brokers discussed a crucial question over the phone: Who should they invite to a secret meeting of Anaheim business leaders, consultants, and politicians? ?

It would be a “retreat” to a local hotel, and one described their small group as a “cabal”. Participation would be limited to people they could trust or, as they put it, “only family members”.

What the men didn’t know was that the FBI was listening.

As Todd Ament, then director of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, and an unnamed political consultant discussed which city council members to include in the group, the consultant bragged about the influence they had on the most populous city. of Orange County: “We say [Elected Official 4]we have re-elected you, we expect you to be a loyal member of the team.

At one point in the call, Ament weighed the wisdom of inviting an unnamed Anaheim City Council member: “To me,” he said, “we know [him] this right. So if we take him into the cabal and he plays double agent, then we’re all screwed.

Taped conversations filed in court this week propelled the city – best known for being home to Disneyland Resort, Major League Baseball’s Angels and National Hockey League Ducks – into the midst of a raging public corruption scandal. boom.

The allegations jeopardized the city’s planned $320 million sale of Angel Stadium to the team, sent shockwaves through the Anaheim political establishment and provided a rare and unvarnished look at the how business is conducted behind closed doors in the city of 350,000 people.

In an affidavit filed last week in support of a federal search warrant for Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins wrote that Anaheim “was tightly controlled by a small group of individuals”, including Sidhu. In a criminal complaint filed this week against Ament, accused of lying to a mortgage lender, Adkins alleged that Ament and the political consultant “identified a specific, secretive group of individuals who wielded significant influence over the internal workings of of the Anaheim government”.

The self-proclaimed cabal held retreats for power brokers and was so influential that the political consultant wrote a script on a measure of obligation – with input from Ament and a person identified as an employee of company A – for a member of the city council to use at a March 2021 meeting, then laughed at his performance.

“[Elected Official 1] reads your script so badly,” the Company A employee wrote in a text message to the political consultant intercepted by the FBI.

“Lol,” replied the consultant. “He doesn’t practice.”

Adkins, the FBI agent, described the political consultant as a “senior partner” in a public affairs firm that used the same office building as the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. Those details match Jeff Flint, managing director and senior associate at FSB Public Affairs, who has an office in the same building as the chamber. Flint represented Angels owner Arte Moreno and Disneyland Resort.

In a statement Wednesday, Flint said, “I have no hesitation in saying that I firmly believe that I have done nothing wrong or illegal,” but will be taking a leave of absence as CEO.

Company A is referenced in the complaint as “an influential company located in Anaheim”, but no further details are provided. Sidhu has not been charged. Ament has not yet pleaded guilty.

Jodi Balma, a professor of political science at Fullerton College, said court filings portrayed the mayor as behaving like “Boss Tweed, that smoky backroom negotiator.” She said anyone watching Anaheim politics wouldn’t be shocked to learn that a “cabal” was controlling the city.

Anaheim has long been known in Orange County political circles as a company town. Disneyland Resort dominated the city’s power structure, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns to elect board members who would support policies favorable to it.

But Anaheim is also a city of deep divisions between the business elites who have the ear of the city’s politicians, the wealthy residents who live in a very white and affluent neighborhood known as Anaheim Hills, and the plains of the city, where the city is more active. Latino class population resides.

Many townspeople — especially workers who clean hotel rooms, mop floors and work in Disneyland Resort booths — have long felt politically marginalized.

Much of the recent commotion revolves around Angel Stadium. In the search warrant affidavit, Adkins alleged that Sidhu provided confidential information to the Angels on at least two occasions during the city’s negotiations with the team over ownership of the 150-acre stadium and obstructed an investigation by the Orange County grand jury on the deal. The mayor, Adkins wrote, hoped to solicit $1 million in campaign contributions from the Angels in exchange for his help. The affidavit – which shows the FBI suspects the mayor of bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering – does not accuse the Angels of wrongdoing or say the team was aware of his plan.

When Sidhu joined the city’s negotiating team in July 2019, Adkins alleged, the influence of cabal members “may have been used to sway the city council’s vote in favor of his appointment — and only his appointment – to the negotiating team”.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development issued a notice to the city in December saying the stadium deal violated the Surplus Land Act, which requires state agencies to prioritize affordable housing, to parks and open spaces when selling goods. The city has denied any wrongdoing. In a settlement last month, the city agreed to pay $96 million to create a fund to build affordable housing.

Anaheim City Council members have called on Mayor Harry Sidhu to resign amid a federal corruption probe.

(Los Angeles Times)

An Orange County Superior Court judge suspended the sale for 60 days on Tuesday in response to a request from the state attorney general who released the search warrant for Sidhu. The state attorney general’s filing suggested that the disclosures contained in the warrant could result in the reversal of the settlement and “new and developing information regarding potential violations of state and federal laws … are likely to be published”.

The city described the federal investigation as a “review related to the proposed sale of Angel Stadium” in a press release Monday, then followed up two days later with an unusual statement announcing that three city council members had sent a letter to Sidhu’s lawyer asking the mayor. resigned due to investigation “arising from independent actions he may have taken” regarding the stadium deal.

“The deeply troubling issues that have been brought to our attention regarding Mayor Sidhu … raise serious concerns and questions about his ability to continue as mayor of Anaheim,” the letter to Sidhu’s attorney reads.

Sidhu, a Republican elected mayor in 2018, uses the slogan that Anaheim is the “city that empowers the American dream.” He is eligible for re-election in November.

The mayor learned of the federal investigation in February as part of a ruse where a cooperating witness — Ament — gave him a bogus federal grand jury subpoena requesting communications related to the stadium deal. The affidavit showed the mayor’s growing suspicions: “Repeatedly, Sidhu wondered if the federal government was monitoring phones and/or emails, even asking if the government would need to get a ‘court approval’. ” to do it.

Control of Anaheim by this small group of insiders has not always been so complete.

In 2012, city leaders considered giving a $158 million resort tax grant to the developer of two four-star hotels near the resort. The deal sparked outrage from critics who argued it was an unjustifiable giveaway of taxpayers’ money. Then-mayor Tom Tait opposed the deal. At the time, he was seen by political observers as a remarkable break from the usual group of insiders who would band together to grant favorable deals to the city’s business leaders. For a brief period between 2016 and 2018, Tait led the majority of the council.

But the complaint and affidavit describe a city – known around the world for attracting more than 25 million tourists each year – where the levers of power are still pulled by a handful of insiders.

“I was shocked when I read the affidavit and how it described such a structured system,” said Councilman Avelino Valencia, who believes the elected official characterized in the intercepted call as a possible double agent. “I knew there were periodic gatherings where conversations were held about Anaheim politics as a whole, but I didn’t expect it to be this sophisticated.”

In an intercepted call, Ament and the political consultant discussed whether a council member identified in the affidavit as “chosen 7” might agree to join the cabal. Ament created a group called Support Our Anaheim Resort, made up of business owners, community leaders and residents that was founded with financial support from Disney.

“I think it would be a lot for him to absorb in his first week [as an elected member of the Anaheim City Council]Ament said. “It’s kind of like when SOAR explained how the sausage was made to the SOAR board to show them how the poll works and how we handle it. That’s when half of SOAR kind of fell apart.

The political consultant burst out laughing.

“We are part of the manipulation,” Ament continued. “I think it’s too early to [Elected Official 7] to go into that level of detail.

Times writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.

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