The details from an FBI corruption probe into Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and Todd Ament, the former CEO of Anaheim’s Chamber of Commerce are shedding light on a shadowy web of lobbyists and consultants who run Anaheim.
Most noteworthy, federal officials indicate that Sidhu passed key city negotiating information to the LA Angels in their bid to purchase Anaheim’s local stadium and 150 acres around it.
Recorded phone calls and intercepted messages provide a window into the extensive lobbying and frequent meetings that went down at City Hall in an effort to rush the sale of Angel Stadium, according to a sworn affidavit by FBI agent Brian Adkins, which was attached to an Attorney General court filing Monday asking a judge to pause the land sale.
In a mortgage fraud criminal complaint against Ament made public this week, federal authorities describe conversations between unnamed political consultants about how lobbyists in town get paid outside of public scrutiny.
“At the end of the day, it’s just moving money back and forth but it will clear a lot of shit off of our books too,” said one unnamed lobbyist, referred to as “Political Consultant 1” in the complaint against Ament.
Based on the recorded conversations in late 2020, Adkins said “Political Consultant 1” offered another lobbyist a “means by which the political consultant could move funds through the Anaheim Economic Development Corporation in order to pay consultants, and perhaps elected public officials, without the knowledge of the client.”
Tax disclosures from 2019 listed Ament as president of the Anaheim Economic Development Corporation.
Read the Ament criminal complaint here.
“I believe that this dynamic is important to show how AMENT and Political Consultant 1 were able to orchestrate the fraudulent schemes detailed below with such ease,” Adkins wrote.
In Adkins’ affidavit detailing Sidhu’s criminal corruption probe, the FBI agent highlights “Political Consultant 1”’s extensive lobbying activity with top city officials leading up to the 2020 Angel Stadium sale.
It’s unclear if “political consultant 1” is the same person in the Ament criminal complaint and the affidavit detailing Sidhu’s alleged corruption.
“According to quarterly lobbying reports filed with Anaheim by Political Consultant 1, beginning in early September 2020, Political Consultant 1 disclosed payments received from SRB for services rendered in support of SRB’s stadium negotiations,” reads Adkins’ Sidhu affidavit.
“Included in the disclosures were multiple contacts with Anaheim Council Members and public officials, including several with SIDHU himself. However, Political Consultant 1 did not appear to disclose this email contact with SIDHU during the same reporting period,” the affidavit continues.
On page 20 of Adkins’ affidavit attached to an Attorney General court filing, the footnotes link out to City of Anaheim lobbying disclosures made by FSB Public Affairs, a political lobbying firm headed by Jeff Flint, who’s the CEO of FSB’s parent company named Core Strategic Group.
According to public disclosures signed by Flint, he met or contacted city officials 15 times to discuss the stadium deal, including three times with Sidhu in September 2020.
The records describe some of those contacts as Zoom calls with planning commissioners, while other meetings are described as calls with city staff or council members.
Flint’s disclosure records show the first meeting that month was held Sept. 4 with Deputy City Manager Greg Garcia.
Flint did not respond to phone, text and email messages seeking comment Wednesday.
While others working for FSB also lobbied for SRB management, the disclosures show they didn’t meet with Sidhu in September 2020.
Brooke Bushart, another lobbyist representing SRB Management, reached out to or met with city officials nine times in September 2020 – but never with Sidhu, according to publicly-available lobbyist disclosure reports that Bushart signed.
Jerry Amante, another lobbyist on behalf of SRB, did not disclose any lobbying activity with city officials during that reporting period, according to disclosures filed with the city that Amante signed.
By the end of September 2020, the Anaheim City Council voted to sell Angel Stadium and the 150 acres of land around it for $150 million in cash.
At one point, Flint’s lobbying firm, FSB Public Affairs, featured the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce as a ‘case study’ of its work on its website for potential clients.
But the same Chamber of Commerce webpage didn’t show up anymore on the lobbying firm’s site upon a Voice of OC review on Wednesday.
It does, however, still appear on WayBack Machine, a publicly available Internet archive that allows access to prior versions of websites.
“The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and FSB Core Strategies have worked together since 2005 on a variety of issues affecting Southern California’s economic powerhouse, the City of Anaheim,” reads the now-removed webpage, according to WayBack Machine.
“For the last ten years on behalf of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce,” the webpage stated that “FSB has always been deeply embedded with civic and business leaders at the helm of Anaheim’s progress.”
The removed webpage also identified the Angel Stadium negotiations – “Including land use planning to develop 200 acre parcel to finance a new stadium” – as a project that the FSB Public Affairs firm “managed.”
In December of 2021, the State Housing and Community Development Dept. concluded that Anaheim illegally sold the stadium.
Between January and March 2022, Flint had several meetings with Anaheim City Council members as well as top city administrators on behalf of SRB Management regarding the status of the Angel Stadium deal, according to the lobbying disclosures he signed.
Flint met or spoke with Sidhu as well as Councilmembers Trevor O’Neil, Steve Faessel and Gloria Ma’ae as well City Manager Jim Vanderpool, Assistant City Manager Greg Garcia and City Attorney Rob Fabela, the disclosures show.
He also met or spoke with city planning commissioners Natalie Meeks, David R. Heywood, Luis Andres Perez, Philip Wolfgramm and Lucille Kring, according to the reports.
In fact, Flint either met or contacted city officials almost 30 times in a span of three months to discuss the stadium deal, according to his signed disclosures.
Those records also show he met with or contacted the Orange County Transportation Authority twice concerning possibly requiring ARTIC parking spots at the stadium site, within the deal, according to the public records available on the city website.
In the following months the state Attorney General fined the city $96 million, reworking certain terms of the deal but largely still allowing the subsidies. Bonta defended his decision in the face of questions that he was rewarding the city as a “bad actor.”
As Anaheim was approaching home plate on the stadium sale by signing the stipulated judgment, the FBI contacted Bonta’s office with the bombshell affidavit on Sidhu – forcing an Orange County Superior Court Judge to put a two-month hold on the sale.
Flint didn’t only lobby for the Angel Stadium deal, according to his disclosures.
He also lobbies for 5G LLC, the developers who are forcing business owners out of Sunkist Plaza, where the locally popular Jagerhaus was located, to make way for a gas station and car wash, according to Flint’s disclosure reports.
Despite concerns from business owners and residents near the plaza about the gas station and car wash project, the city council narrowly voted for it to proceed last year.
At the time, Councilman Jose Moreno publicly questioned why the developer needed to hire Flint.
“The only reason why we decided to hire that political consultant,” said Shira Zaghi, from 5G LLC, in response to Moreno, “was because we had a hard time understanding Anaheim politics.”
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.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.