Following Monday’s revelations that Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu is under an FBI corruption probe, one councilman called for his immediate resignation and another called for an independent investigation into city hall to figure out who helped him secretly negotiate the Angel Stadium sale.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Councilman Avelino Valencia and numerous residents called for Sidhu to resign.
“Now more than ever, we must do everything in our ability to reestablish the public’s trust of our government and the city hall in Anaheim,” Valencia said at the beginning of the meeting. “Tonight, I’m calling on the resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu from the office of Mayor of Anaheim and for him to also focus on his legal defense and let our city move ahead from this chapter.”
Sidhu wasn’t present at the meeting.
An FBI corruption probe into Sidhu led to a 60-day halt on the Angel Stadium land sale, which would’ve left Anaheim with $150 million in cash for selling the stadium and the roughly 150 acres it sits on.
Federal investigators have been looking at various dealings Sidhu’s 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 [an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee] 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,” FBI agent Brian Adkins said in his affidavit attached to a court filing that led to the 60-day pause.
Valencia also scheduled a public discussion about the state of the Angel Stadium deal for the next meeting – a rarity in the City of Anaheim.
“I know Mayor Sidhu is not in attendance at this meeting, but I suspect that he’s watching from home … please resign from the mayorship of Anaheim,” Valencia said, calling for “an in-depth discussion and briefing” on the stadium.
Sidhu’s opponent in the mayors’ race, Ashleigh Aitken – whose father, Wylie, is Chairman of the Voice of OC’s board of directors – said the whole stadium process should be restarted.
“Our mayor chose to be the sole negotiator for the city and he enabled secret meetings and he betrayed the residents of Anaheim,” Aitken said during public comment.
It also comes after former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament was indicted by federal prosecutors Tuesday on mortgage fraud charges. Ament helped fundraise for Sidhu and was a close political ally.
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.
Adkins, in court filings in Ament’s 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 authorities say at least $31,000 of the money was paid directly to Ament without those payments being disclosed to the client.
“They [Ament and the consultant] were not given influence over drafting a proposed cannabis ordinance as promised,” said Adkins in the Monday complaint.
Councilman Steve Faessel, who was part of Sidhu’s council majority, said the evidence is concerning.
“The evidence is pretty damning. And I thought I knew both of these individuals pretty well and it appears that I did not. And maybe that’s because I try to look at the best side and not the worst side and this is a learning opportunity for me maybe,” Faessel said.
A longtime critic of the stadium proposal and skeptic of the negotiations, Councilman Jose Moreno is calling for a full-blown investigation to figure out which city hall employees helped Sidhu with his controversial dealins.
“I ask our city attorney to launch an independent investigation through an outside firm,” Moreno said. “To our anaheim staff, fuck this hurts. Please know that for me, this is not an indictment of you and your integrity. …. We must all be assured that this was isolated to the mayor and his cronies.”
He also called on the city to cut ties with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and Anaheim First, a chamber-created resident advisory group that’s supposed to make spending recommendations to the city council.
“The Chamber of Commerce received over $450,00 in contracts. Anaheim First and the CEO Todd Ament … received $250,000,” Moreno said. “I urge city staff to cut these contracts immediately.”
Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae said the allegations in the probe are “shocking” and that the “feeling of betrayal … hit at the core.”
And Councilman Jose Diaz said the news “broke my heart.”
Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who was part of Sidhu’s majority, said Sidhu’s corruption allegations come as a surprise.
“A federal inquiry involving Mayor Sidhu and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and also a related delay in our stadium agreement … is news to all of us and the issues raised are concerning and taken very seriously,” O’Neil said.
But, he said, the rest of the city council operated on “good faith” during stadium negotiations.
“In light of this, we have many stadium issues coming before us in the very near future. I would recommend to staff and urge that we do not bring any stadium related items before the council — we press the pause button on those and evaluate what’s come out and respect the federal inquiry that’s taken place,” O’Neil said.
Yet Valencia was able to schedule an upcoming discussion on the stadium at their next meeting.
Two state assembly members – State Senator Tom Umberg and State Assemblyman Tom Daly – who represent Anaheim also wrote to council members Tuesday afternoon urging them to cancel the Angel stadium sale.
“In light of allegations that the negotiator of this deal acted unscrupulously and outside the scope of his public office,” both legislators wrote. “What steps does the Anaheim City Council anticipate taking in the immediate future to remedy what appears to be an unfair, collusive sale?”
Reporters Brandon Pho and Hosam Elattar contributed to this story.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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