Investigators say they have gathered significant information two months into a city-commissioned probe looking at alleged corruption and pay to play politics in Anaheim.
And at Tuesday’s city council meeting, they made it clear to elected officials that they’re onto something.
“The investigative team has conducted interviews, which have pointed to significant events in the past that require (and) that justify additional scrutiny,” Clay Smith, a retired judge hired to oversee the investigation, said at the meeting.
“I don’t think it would be fair to say that we don’t have anything of any significance at this point. I think we do.”
Smith, however, characterized their findings so far as background information as he publicly updated city council members on the progress of the investigation for the first time since it was commissioned.
Jeff Johnson, principal and co-founder of the JL Group which was hired to head up the probe, echoed Smith’s remarks.
“Trust me, we’ve gotten some great stuff,” he said.
Johnson, who was a nearly 30-year Long Beach police officer and received detective of the year award, also said most of the “action” usually occurs in the last months of the investigation.
Investigators were hired in August to audit former Mayor Harry Sidhu’s campaign finances as well as that of other city council members to see if the money improperly influenced elected officials’ votes on contracts and other issues.
Johnson said there are over 180 people they are considering “prospective witnesses” they’re getting information from.
But details on what exactly they have found will remain hidden from the public until after the investigation comes to an end, which investigators predict will be next Spring.
So far the investigation has cost taxpayers close to $150,000 – with about $22,000 for Smith’s fees and $128,000 for the JL Group, according to a staff report.
FBI Corruption Probe
At the heart of the issue is an FBI corruption investigation, which killed the Angel Stadium land sale, pushed Sidhu to resign and saw former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament plead guilty to a series of federal fraud charges.
Federal Agent Brian Adkins accused Sidhu in sworn affidavits of trying to get $1 million in campaign contributions from Angel executives for trying to push through the now-dead Angel Stadium Land Sale.
FBI Agents, in a sworn affidavit, said they recorded a phone call in which Sidhu talked about those efforts.
“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 Anaheim Chamber of Commerce employee in a recorded phone call, according to Adkins’ affidavit.
Sidhu resigned shortly after the affidavits went public but has maintained his innocence through his lawyer and has not been publicly charged with a crime.
Can Sidhu ‘Plead the Fifth’ in the Anaheim Investigation?
The update on the investigation came the same day the Los Angeles Times published an article on Sidhu refusing to disclose email and text messages regarding city business from his personal device invoking the fifth amendment.
Councilman Jose Moreno questioned what that refusal will mean for the city commissioned investigation and asked if the investigators could legally compel people to turn over documents.
“I’m worried that elected officials can plead the Fifth (Amendment) and not give any email communications,” he said.
Smith said the team did not have subpoena power and that it is a civil investigation.
“So far, we have not had to cross the bridge of someone refusing to provide documents to us,” he said.
In a Brown Act lawsuit – the state’s chief transparency law for local governments – against Anaheim for the shadowy Angel Stadium sale, Sidhu produced no records related to the stadium sale.
In a deposition attached to that lawsuit, Assistant City Clerk Jennifer Hall said she’s never processed a text message from Sidhu in response to a public records request.
Federal agents allege he destroyed records to hide from an OC Grand Jury investigation and tried to instruct an unnamed cooperating witness to lie to grand jurors during their investigation.
When Will The Public See The Findings?
Moreno also called for the finalized to be presented in a public meeting and pointed to the stadium appraisal which didn’t become public until late 2019 – months after it was conducted.
He asked his council colleagues if the “report is expected to be made public upon receipt?”
Council members remained silent for about eight seconds before Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae asked if it was legal to make the findings public right away.
Smith said they will submit the report to the city clerk and it will be up to her office to distribute it.
“We are absolutely operating under the assumption that our work product will ultimately be in the public domain, as it should be. As others have pointed out, we understand that this effort is being funded by taxpayer dollars,” he said.
“Those who are paying for our effort, are absolutely entitled to know what the result of our effort is.”
“I agree,” responded Ma’ae.
Councilman Jose Diaz also called for the report to go out to the public immediately.
Moreno called for an agenda item on making the report public once finalized.
“I want to remove any ambiguity.”
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.
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