In a sworn declaration last year, an Anaheim assistant City Clerk says she’s never produced a text message from Mayor Harry Sidhu when putting together record requests.
That pattern is now likely to be seen in a different light.
An FBI corruption investigation into Sidhu – made public last week – features wiretaps with the mayor allegedly talking about destroying documents when it comes to the controversial Angel Stadium land sale.
“It was my private emails on even my text and all that with you, I erased everything,” Sidhu told an unnamed Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee in a recorded conversation, states an FBI affidavit made public in a related court filing.
Sidhu’s lawyer, Paul Meyer, defended Sidhu in a Monday statement, which also served as the mayor’s resignation.
“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’s statement did not address Voice of OC questions about Sidhu destroying documents and he didn’t respond to follow up questions.
In his affidavit, FBI agent Brian Adkins alleges Sidhu not only tried to hide records from the OC Grand Jury, but he also engaged in witness tampering.
The affidavit was attached to last week’s court filing by state Attorney General Rob Bonta, which led to a 60-day hold on a stipulated judgment that would’ve nearly finalized the sale of Angel stadium.
Adkins also said such actions could’ve interfered with a failed resident lawsuit that alleged city officials broke California’s transparency law when secretly deciding to sell the stadium.
In that lawsuit, Assistant City Clerk Jennifer Hall said she’s never processed a text message from Sidhu in response to a public records request.
“Do you recall ever receiving a text message in response to a CPRA request from the mayor?” attorney Kelly Aviles asked Hall, according to the deposition.
Hall responded, “Not that I can recall.”
Aviles represents the People’s Homeless Task Force of Orange County, who sued the city for allegedly violating transparency law in the stadium deal. She’s also Voice of OC’s chief public records litigator.
“This is what we said had been happening from the beginning. It’s nice there’s finally validation to the things we’ve been saying. The truth is the truth, regardless of what the judge said in the case,” Aviles said in a phone interview last week.”The truth will always come out and I’m glad it’s starting to now.”
Aviles said they got nothing “substantial” from Sidhu after filing numerous public record requests filed with Anaheim City Hall.
“That was no surprise, we put that in our filings, we told the court that they’re destroying records,” Aviles said. “That didn’t seem to influence the result of the Brown Act issue at all.”
In January, the FBI wired up an unnamed Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee as an informant and sent them to meet with Sidhu.
The affidavit shows Sidhu told the chamber employee – known as “CW2” in the affidavit – to tell the OC Grand Jury that the two never discussed the stadium negotiations, and instead an occasional talk of economic development
“This is part of the project that the Chamber was working on,” Sidhu said, according to the affidavit.
Adkins also alleges Sidhu passed information to the Angels during stadium negotiations.
“Throughout their conversation, and as was illustrated above, SIDHU appeared concerned about the OC Grand Jury uncovering the fact that SIDHU had passed information to the Angels, via CW2, during stadium sale negotiations,” Adkins said in the affidavit. “SIDHU’s concern appeared to be significant, to the point of instructing CW2 to lie to the OC Grand Jury.”
Meyer said otherwise in his Monday statement.
“The negotiations followed accepted lawful practices used in all major business negotiations. No closed session material, no secret information, was disclosed by Mayor Sidhu,” reads the statement.
Aviles lambasted the allegations of Sidhu giving the Angels information during stadium negotiations, especially since city officials didn’t publicly release much information during the talks.
“The idea that you wouldn’t share information with the public under the guise that we have to go in and talk privately – then your own people were giving to the other side the whole time, it’s just so ridiculous,” she said.
And Adkins said if Sidhu didn’t destroy records, the transparency lawsuit could’ve turned out differently.
“Furthermore, I believe such information and documents would have been pertinent to the HTFOC, and possibly the judge presiding over the matter,” reads a footnote in Adkins’ affidavit.
Sidhu instructed the informant on what to tell grand jurors, according to the affidavit.
“So, so when you, again your key thing is, when, when they talk to you about this basically say, ‘Yeah I talked with [SIDHU], about, you know, during the time of, not negotiations, but after the negotiations was done.’ And came back to city hall and he asked for the economic development and, we were, you know, we were there and supporting this,” reads the affidavit.
The FBI corruption probe at Anaheim City hall is starting to reach throughout county.
Former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament is facing mortgage fraud charges and public corruption claims, according to a criminal complaint filed against him last week.
Top Democratic party official Melehat Rafiei resigned Sunday night after facing growing pressure from local Democrats to call it quits after it was revealed she was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe Irvine City Council members for favorable cannabis legislation in 2019. She then turned into an FBI informant, according to footnotes in the affidavit.
Federal agents wrote in their affidavit that they stopped working with her after federal investigators found she was lying to them. The bribery charges were dropped “without prejudice,” meaning they can come back.
No charges have been publicly filed against Sidhu and he’s not been publicly seen or heard from since the initial filings hit last Monday.
Council members are expected to discuss the stadium and the issues surrounding it at tonight’s city council meeting, which starts at 5 p.m.
They’re also slated to talk about the Surplus Land Act violation in closed secession, in which the city signed a stipulated judgment mandating the creation of a $96 million affordable housing fund to build homeless throughout the city.
But Orange County Superior Court Judge Glenn Salter put that judgment on hold for two months at the request of California Attorney General Rob Bonta after he learned of the corruption probe.
Despite that, Angels owner Arte Moreno is pushing council members to adopt the stadium deal anyways – giving the city a June 14 deadline. It’s unclear what happens after that if the stadium sale continues to stall out.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Sidhu’s council majority flipped on him and condemned his actions federal prosecutors describe in court filings.
The Orange County Register editorial board is calling for the city council to cancel the stadium deal.
“This is just the first strand in a giant hairball that will unravel over the coming months. In the meantime, the city needs to cancel the stadium sale and begin the process from scratch – in a transparent manner.”
Meanwhile, Aviles said the corruption probe shows just how flawed the stadium negotiations and land sale process were.
“The way that the case turned out is just so crazy because all it took was common sense to look at what was happening to say there’s something amiss here. It’s frustrating to be fighting these battles where anybody can see what’s going on, yet the system seems to fail at every turn. I’m just thankful that there’s some part of the system that worked in this instance,” Aviles said. “In light of this we have been considering whether to appeal.”
A previous version of this story referenced Sidhu potentially being pushed out of office through the city charter. He abruptly resigned Monday afternoon.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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