Anaheim City Council members are slated to get a public update Tuesday on the city’s own corruption investigation looking into campaign finances and contracts – all stemming from an FBI corruption probe into city hall earlier this year.
The council is also slated to discuss who’s responsible for maintenance at Angel Stadium: the city or the Los Angeles Angels?
Most councilmembers have been quiet on both fronts in recent months following the resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu and the collapse of the stadium land sale.
In sworn affidavits, FBI agents accuse Sidhu of trying to ram through the deal for $1 million in campaign contributions.
Sidhu resigned shortly after the affidavits became public in May and has denied any wrongdoing. He has not been publicly charged with a crime.
It’s been more than two months since the city hired outside investigators to essentially conduct a forensic audit on Sidhu’s campaign finances and potentially other council members to see if the spending improperly influenced votes.
Federal agents also alleged Sidhu shared city information with the Angels during stadium negotiations, an allegation he also denies.
Retired judge Clay Smith is heading up the internal investigation and has broken it down into three areas, according to Smith’s August update in the staff report.
“First, the investigative team has developed a comprehensive roster of persons who may have relevant information,” Smith wrote, adding that contracted investigators are determining which documents should be analyzed.
“Third, the investigative team has begun the process of interviewing persons who potentially have relevant information. The results of these interviews are summarized and circulated among all members of the investigative team and stored in a central repository. As you would expect, these interviews may lead to the identification of additional persons we wish to interview,” Smith wrote to councilmembers.
Click here to watch Tuesday’s 5 p.m. meeting.
‘Family Members Only’
FBI affidavits detailed a December 2020 Anaheim Chamber of Commerce “retreat” for city council members and city executives, including City Manager James Vanderpool and Councilman Trevor O’Neil.
“In fact, I can say with relative certainty that I am Elected Official 3 referenced in one of the recorded phone conversations. In my official capacity as council member, I’ve interacted with and attended meetings with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, as I have with stakeholders throughout the city on a variety of issues,” O’Neil publicly said from the dais at the May 24 council meeting.
A shadowy network of resort interests “met in person to discuss strategy surrounding several meters within Anaheim – matters that were often pending, or soon to be pending, before the Anaheim City Council, “ according to a criminal complaint filed against former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament.
“Based on Political Consultant 1’s statement that the retreat needs to be ‘family members only,’ I believe that the metric used for deciding whom to invite to the retreat was, first and foremost, based on trust,” special agent Brian Adkins wrote in the criminal complaint.
Ament pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges earlier this year.
“I believe that Political Consultant 1 and AMENT had defined a specific, covert group of individuals that wielded significant influence over the inner workings of Anaheim’s government,” Adkins wrote.
In a May statement to Voice of OC, Vanderpool defended the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce retreat.
“I have read the same descriptions as others, and it is disheartening to see this meeting portrayed that way,” the city manager wrote. “That is not what I experienced.”
Meanwhile, Disney’s main political spending vehicle, Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee, has been pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost resort-friendly candidates.
As of Friday, SOAR has spent more than $220,000 in independent expenditures to support the campaigns of Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae and candidates Natalie Rubalcava, who heads the OC Business Council and former Anaheim Public Works Director Natalie Meeks.
Disney gave the resort PAC $1.3 million. So far, more than $700,000 has been spent to boost the resort’s preferred candidates.
Ma’ae has also faced criticism from residents, especially when she was appointed to the council last year.
She used to sit on SOAR’s advisory committee and was a key player in Anaheim First – an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce-created group that was supposed to make spending recommendations to city councilmembers.
Shortly after the corruption probe became public, city officials stopped contracting with the Chamber and cut ties with Anaheim First.
Who’s Responsible For Angel Stadium Maintenance?
There’s been a years-long debate in Anaheim about who’s responsible for maintaining the city-owned Angel Stadium.
Over the years, team owner Arte Moreno has said the stadium needs up to $150 million in upgrades and wants the city to help pay for it – an estimated cost from the team.
Now, city officials are poised to say Moreno’s on the hook for repairs and maintenance.
“Regardless of the accuracy of that 2013 estimate, any capital repairs and improvements needed to maintain Angel Stadium in good condition and repair equal to first class professional baseball stadiums, subject to ordinary wear and tear, is at the sole expense of Angels Baseball, pursuant to paragraph 10(a) of the Lease,” reads the staff report from City Attorney Rob Fabela.
The council is expected to discuss maintenance obligations at the Tuesday meeting.
The lease, which was reinstated by the Sidhu-led council majority in January 2019, says the Angels are responsible for maintenance.
“Tenant will operate the baseball stadium in a manner which is consistent with the first class professional baseball stadium operating practices used in Major League Baseball such as, on the date hereof, Kansas City and Dodgers stadiums,” reads the lease.
Since 2002, Anaheim’s spent $12.3 million on stadium maintenance, while the Angels have spent $54.5 million, according to the staff report.
Much of the money spent by the Angels wasn’t on maintenance.
Shortly after city councilmembers canned the stadium deal, Moreno announced he’s looking to sell the Angels.
Now, he’s demanding $5 million from the city to recover money spent during negotiations and is threatening a lawsuit over a planned fire station on the stadium parking lot that’s needed for the incoming OC Vibe development around the Honda Center.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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