Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu abruptly resigned Monday, following a tough week that saw the Angel Stadium land sale temporarily halted following damning allegations stemming from the unveiling of an FBI corruption probe into city hall.
On Monday, Sidhu’s lawyer Paul Meyer issued a statement defending the mayor’s actions while in office.
“Mayor Harry Sidhu has always, as his foremost priority, acted in the best interests of the City of Anaheim, and he does so today. In order to continue to act in the best interests of Anaheim and allow this great City to move forward without distraction, Harry Sidhu has resigned from his post as Mayor effective May 24, 2022,” Meyer said in the statement.
Meyer also said that a “fair and thorough investigation” would show that Sidhu didn’t leak information to the Angels in an effort to get a campaign contribution – as is alleged in an FBI affidavit.
“The government affidavit confirms that Harry never asked for a political campaign contribution that was linked in any way to the negotiation process,” he wrote.
To read the full statement click here.
In an official affidavit, FBI agents wrote that Sidhu shared city information with the Angels and tried to ram the deal through in an effort to get at least $1 million in campaign spending from Angels executives — largely through independent expenditures that usually fund mailers and other political advertising in places like Anaheim.
Sidhu’s resignation comes after some residents and all Sidhu’s colleagues on the dais, demanded he quit.
“I hope that the people of Anaheim and our media continue to pursue the question of whether Harry Sidhu was acting alone. He was acting in a system of arrogance, hubris and corruption. And under the corruptive influence of money and campaign donors,” Councilman Jose Moreno said Monday after seeing the city announcement.
“And I’m going to be thinking deeply of what’s the next step that our city should take to restore a semblance of public trust, let alone full trust,” he said. “Given the FBI probe and its description of a cabal, a network, what can only be described as a shadow gov – our next steps will be critical in terms of who should be involved in government, how we govern and for whose interest we govern.”
Following the publication of this story, city spokesman Mike Lyster said in an email that the resignation clears up what to do if Sidhu missed another meeting, which could’ve seen the mayor forced out.
“While no city wants to see a mayor resign under these circumstances,” he wrote. “This brings clarity to a question that had been hanging over our city for the past week. And while we have a long process ahead of us, this is one step forward.”
Sidhu, who was first elected as Mayor in 2018 on the promise of keeping the Angels in Anaheim, leaves behind a controversial tenure as mayor – one marked by secrecy in stadium negotiations and, now, public corruption allegations.
Sidhu’s resignation marks the second high-profile resignation connected to the FBI probe, following Melahat Rafiei, a longtime leader in the state and OC Democratic Party who faced calls from her party to step away after court filings last week indicate she was arrested by the FBI in 2019 and accused of attempted bribery of two Irvine City Council members.
The mayor was able to get himself appointed to the city’s stadium negotiating team after reinstating the old stadium lease in January 2019.
At the time, Sidhu billed the move as a “temporary lease extension.”
But it reinstated the old lease and tied up the land for years – something that stadium deal critics say gave away all the city’s leverage in negotiations.
California Housing and Community Development Department officials said Sidhu’s handling of the stadium violated the Surplus Land Act and determined the sale was illegal.
It eventually resulted in a $96 million fine to be paid into a citywide affordable housing fund, which was in a stipulated judgment from State Attorney General Rob Bonta.
But that was put on hold for two months Tuesday after Bonta learned of the FBI investigation of Sidhu. The attorney general included an explosive affidavit from an FBI agent in his Monday court filing, alleging a host of public corruption at Anaheim city hall and asking OC Superior Court Judge Glenn Salter to pause the sale – which Salter granted.
Sidhu’s handling of the stadium deal also brought a transparency lawsuit against the city. However, OC Superior Court Judge David Hoffer ultimately sided with the city and said the entire process was “fully vetted with the public.”
But that’s not how federal investigators are looking at the stadium deal.
In the affidavit attached to Bonta’s court filing, FBI agent Brian Adkins said Sidhu gave confidential information to the Angels and to an unnamed Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee.
“SIDHU’s actions may have violated the Brown Act in that he knowingly provided non-public information discussed during a Closed Session City Council meeting to CW2. In addition, SIDHU passed information on a real estate transaction, which was arguably one of the largest real estate transactions in the City of Anaheim’s history,” Adkins said in his affidavit.
The affidavit notes that CW2 is an unnamed chamber employee.
Last Tuesday, former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament was formally charged in federal court at the Ronald Regan courthouse in Santa Ana for mortgage fraud.
According to a 99-page criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court Monday, Ament allegedly made false statements to a lender while seeking financing in late 2020 to purchase a $1.5 million, five-bedroom residence in Big Bear City.
Ament was a close ally of Sidhu, helping the mayor roll out Anaheim First – a chamber-created resident advisory group that’s supposed to make spending recommendations to city council members.
Anaheim First has consistently voiced support for the stadium deal and a critic of the group was recently fired from a city commission.
Adkins, in court filings in the federal case, also found Ament and an unnamed political consultant defrauded a cannabis company that thought it paid $225,000 for a task force that would craft a favorable ordinance regarding cannabis.
But federal authorities say at least $31,000 of the money was paid directly to Ament without those payments being disclosed to the client.
“They were not given influence over drafting a proposed cannabis ordinance as promised, AMENT and Political Consultant 1 misrepresented where and how they spent the funds, and AMENT and Political Consultant 1 concealed the fact that a substantial amount appeared to be embezzled out of the Chamber and into an entity controlled by AMENT personally,” wrote Adkins in the complaint filed last week.
Meanwhile, federal investigators wrote in their affidavit that they have been looking at various dealings Sidhu had in recent years – including him allegedly trying to push the stadium deal through so the Angels would fatten up his campaign warchest.
“I also believe, based on recorded conversations conducted between CW2 and SIDHU, and as illustrated below, that another motivating factor was SIDHU’s intention to solicit monetary compensation from an individual, in the form of campaign contributions, in exchange for pushing the stadium deal through on more favorable terms for the Angels,” Adkins said in his affidavit attached to Bonta’s court filing.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam