California Attorney General Rob Bonta is calling for a 60-day pause on the Angel Stadium land sale – as the FBI is taking a hard look at Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu for public corruption allegations.
The “FBI learned that the City of Anaheim was tightly controlled by a small cadre of individuals, including SIDHU, a particular member of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, and others,” reads a Thursday affidavit from FBI agent Brian Adkins in Bonta’s court filing.
Sidhu’s attorney, Paul Meyer, declined to comment, saying it would “premature” at this stage to do so, in a Monday text message.
According to the affidavit, Adkins apparently wiretapped the cell phones of people close to Sidhu, capturing conversations and messages between them and Sidhu detailing things like the Mayor’s influence over the city council and Sidhu’s apparent efforts to thwart an OC Grand Jury investigation into the stadium sale.
The FBI agent also turned some of the people closest to Sidhu into federal informants, according to the affidavit. The affidavit is meant to show probable cause that crimes were committed.
A court hearing is scheduled at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.
Federal officials allege that Sidhu tried ramming the deal through this year so he could get his reelection campaign financed by the Angels – likely through a political action committee, which typically spends money on mailers and other political advertising.
“I am hoping to get at least a million from I’m going to be pushing it. [Angels Representative 1] actually asked me. [Angels Representative 1] said, ‘What can I do for your election?’ I said, ‘Let me finish your deal first, and then we’ll talk about that,’” Sidhu said to an unnamed Chamber of Commerce employee in a recorded phone call, according to Adkins’ affidavit.
Adkins’ affidavit later adds:
“Sidhu is engaged in an ongoing scheme to commit honest services fraud by sharing confidential information with representatives from the Los Angeles Angels Major League Baseball team (“the Angels”) regarding negotiations related to the City’s sale of Angel Stadium with the expectation of receiving a sizeable contribution to his reelection campaign from a prominent Angels representative. Furthermore, I believe SIDHU’s actions in furthering this scheme have directly resulted in the withholding of information from an Orange County Grand Jury and an Orange County Superior Court Judge in a civil matter related to the sale of the stadium.”
In his sworn affidavit, Adkins said he believes Sidhu “may have engaged in criminal offenses” including bribery, wire fraud, false statements, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
“Sidhu told [an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee] that he … intended to revise his request to Angels Representative 1 for campaign contributions from $500,000 to $1,000,000. SIDHU told [the Chamber employee], several times during the phone call, that he needed the stadium deal to go through before he could ask Angels Representative 1 for money,” Adkins wrote.
In Monday’s court filing, Bonta’s office said the sale should be paused because of the federal investigation, combined with the recent Surplus Land Act violation and resulting stipulated judgment.
[Read: California AG Fines Anaheim $96 Million in Angel Stadium Sale, City Says Team Owner Will Pay]
City spokesman Mike Lyster deferred requests for comment to a written statement the city prepared online.
“The federal review focuses on Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and the Anaheim Chamber Commerce. It does not focus on the city’s process for the stadium plan since 2019,” reads the Monday news release.
“We are troubled by this,” reads a statement from Anaheim City Manager Jim Vanderpool, which is included in the news release. “Throughout this process, Anaheim staff and the City Council have worked in good faith on a proposal that offered benefits for our community.”
“What has been shared with us was unknown to the city administration before today, and what is being described falls outside of the city’s process on the stadium. We will continue to evaluate what this means and how to move forward in the best interest of our city,” Vanderpool adds in the written city statement.
“We are surprised and dismayed by what has been shared with us,” said Mike Lyster, spokesman for the city of Anaheim in a quote inside the news release. “We take this matter and the issues raised seriously. While allegations, they are troubling nonetheless. As we look to see this process play out, we will determine what this means for the stadium plan in the days ahead.”
On May 13, the Attorney General’s office received information of a federal warrant “that was issued based on the affidavit of probable cause showing that certain actions surrounding the City’s underlying sale of Angel Stadium to SRB Management, LLC, was unlawful,” said a top AG staffer named David Pai in a written declaration attached to the Monday filing.
Pai writes that resolving his state office’s Surplus Land Act dispute with Anaheim City Hall is “intertwined” with the Angel Stadium sale, and now it appears “that the validity of the Stipulation for Entry of Judgment could also be in question based on the information stated in the affidavit.”
He’s now asking an Orange County Superior Court Judge to “press pause,” but only until “pertinent facts are confirmed or refuted” so as to “avoid the entry of a potentially invalid stipulated judgment.”
The stadium is being sold for $320 million to SRB Management, which is headed up by Angels owner Arte Moreno.
Anaheim expects to get $150 million in cash because city taxpayers were originally going to subsidize $170 million from the $320 million price tag — $123 million for at least 466 affordable housing units and $46 million to build a seven-acre park.
But state officials said the sale was illegal under the Surplus Land Act and fined the city $96 million late last month. Part of the stipulated judgment stemming from that violation is creating a $96 million fund to build affordable housing across the city.
City officials plan to get that $96 million from the $123 million in affordable housing that was slated for stadium land – yet there’s no official agreement okaying the switch from SRB Management has been publicly released.
In July 2019, Sidhu got himself appointed to the city’s negotiating team as the lone representative from the City Council to talk with the Angels.
Feds Scrutinize Stadium Negotiations
The 2019 stadium negotiations didn’t officially begin until Nov. 15 and SRB Management, headed by Angels owner Arte Moreno, was created five days later. According to a city document tracking the progress of stadium negotiations, the two negotiating parties met Nov. 15, 22 and 26.
The stadium sale proposal was first made public Dec. 4 that year and the Council voted to begin the land sale 16 days later.
It took 12 days longer for the City Council members to decide to name the second Monday in October Indigenous People’s Day than it did to enter a stadium land sale agreement.
In his affidavit, Adkins said Sidhu and a political consultant had considerable influence over the city council majority, which pushed them to appoint Sidhu to the negotiating team.
The Angels told council members they wanted to buy the stadium and the roughly 150 acres it sits on in late August 2019, according to the court filing.
“Shortly after SIDHU joined the negotiating team, on August 23, 2019, the Angels advised the Anaheim City Council that they preferred to purchase the land on which the stadium rested, rather than lease it. Then, on September 24, 2019, the City Council agreed to negotiate a sale of the stadium property,” reads Adkins’ affidavit.
Adkins said Sidhu gave Angels negotiators information about the controversial land appraisal, which was being withheld from residents at the time.
“From in or around September 2019, when the City Council was discussing stadium appraisal figures during closed session meetings, until in or around September 2020, when Anaheim and the Angels agreed on terms, including final sale price and community benefits (discussed above), it appears that SIDHU, on at least two specific occasions, provided City-specific information to the Angels for use by the Angels in their negotiations with Anaheim,” reads Adkins’ affidavit.
Atkins wrote in his affidavit that Sidhu did it in secret to “to conceal a Brown Act violation and avoid negative public perception.”
The appraisal wasn’t released until the day city officials announced they were selling the stadium in early December 2019.
“I believe SIDHU knowingly provided confidential information intended for the sole use of Anaheim and its negotiating team to the Angels,” Adkins said in the affidavit. “I believe he did so covertly, with the intent of concealing his actions from the negotiating team and the public, for the purpose of assisting the Angels and himself at the expense of the City of Anaheim.28
Sidhu Tries Thwarting OC Grand Jury Investigation
Adkins, based on a court-obtained wiretap of an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee and recorded conversations with the Mayor, thinks Sidhu interfered with an Orange County Grand Jury Investigation into the Angel Stadium sale.
Grand jurors were apparently looking at how Sidhu allegedly passed information to the Angels negotiating team.
“Upon receiving the OC Grand Jury letter, [the Chamber of Commerce employee], at the direction of the FBI, reestablished contact with SIDHU. As a result, [the employee] and SIDHU met on January 12, 2022 to discuss the OC Grand Jury, among other matters. The FBI provided [the employee] with a recording device and the meeting was subsequently recorded by [the employee],” reads Adkins’ affidavit.
Adkins said Sidhu tried to convince the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee to lie to grand jurors about the issue.
“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 [the employee], during stadium sale negotiations,” Adkins said in his affidavit.
“SIDHU’s concern appeared to be significant, to the point of instructing [the employee] to lie to the OC Grand Jury, as was illustrated in the same recorded conversation,” reads the court filing.
Apparently the Chamber of Commerce employee was concerned that people knew they were secretly meeting with the mayor.
“The hard part, and I think what everybody’s freaked out about is people know we had meetings. And people may have been watching us. So, you know, to lie, is probably not good. I think we just, you know, the meetings occurred,” the employee said to Sidhu, according to the court filing.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Brandon Pho 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 @photherecord.
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