A recent Anaheim-commissioned corruption report says it took more than big business leaders to sustain Anaheim’s shadowy Disneyland influence network, one which the FBI says had an outsized influence over city business and policymaking for years.

Last month, the city’s independent investigation – which City Council members ordered in response to the FBI corruption probe – has expanded the public’s understanding of what the federal agents called a “cabal,” to include two other interest groups in town:

The unions representing Anaheim’s police officers and firefighters. 

And in early 2020, some resort subsidy critics said the police union reaped the rewards – a pay raise for officers that city staff warned could dip into Anaheim’s reserve funds.

The city-hired investigators’ report describes the roster of Anaheim’s shadow government this way:

“The so-called ‘Cabal’ seemed to be comprised of: The Chamber, SOAR (A Disney-controlled political fundraising committee), Disney and then the Police & Fire Associations and Building Trades.”

[Read: Anaheim Investigators: Special Interests, Elected Officials Obstructed Corruption Probe] 

The report continues:

“The apparent plan was that the Platinum Triangle, the Resort, and Disney would all prosper together.”

President of the police union for much of the time was Edgar Hampton, who held the role from 2017 to 2022. 

Attempts to reach Hampton yielded a response in a direct message on LinkedIn, in which Hampton denied himself or the union being involved with a shadow government.

“There was no secret cabal that the police union was involved in,” Hampton wrote, arguing his organization helped make Anaheim the first OC city to have body worn cameras, a recommendation-only civilian oversight board, and agreed on reforms. 

He continued:

“The city froze us out of the selection of the chief of police after chief Quezada resigned meaning we were allowed ZERO input on their decision. That’s hardly a secret cabal looking to get over on the city of Anaheim. I don’t own an oversized lounge chair or a fluffy kitten that I stroke while plotting the demise of my enemies.”

The police union has been one of the largest spenders on citywide elections between 2016 and 2022, putting more than $444,000 over that time period toward its preferred candidates, who are often backed by the powerful Disneyland resort, as well as resort-controlled campaign fundraising committees. 

But what results does that kind of political involvement yield? 

In a Friday phone interview, the question makes former City Councilmember Jose Moreno recall a time when he was still in office.

On Feb. 11, 2020 – just before the COVID-19 pandemic killed nearly 1,200 Anaheim residents to date – City Council members voted to give police officers a 14% wage increase over six years, as well as a 17% raise for the police union president at the time, Hampton. 

That would amount to a nearly $60 million cost to the city over six years out of the general fund – the fund fed by residents’ taxes, which provides the greatest flexibility on spending on public services and community resources.

But it would take more than the general fund to pay for officers’ raises, according to staff estimates in their report at the time. 

The police raises also required Anaheim officials to dip into their reserves.

The raises were heralded by resort-backed City Council members as making Anaheim competitive in attracting officers through compensation.

“When we are dealing in an environment where Sacramento and their soft-on crime-policies continue to make it more difficult for our people to keep us safe, patrolling our neighborhoods – we have decriminalization, we have prison realignment — all these things that have contributed to crime in our neighborhoods,” said former City Council member Trevor O’Neil during the February 2020 meeting, before the vote. 

“And it’s important to me to make sure we are able to attract the best, brightest and most experienced officers.”

Though a two-member council minority – one that often found itself in opposition to corporate tax subsidies in a town where half of residents are on public health plans – wasn’t as convinced. 

[Read: The Happiest Place on Earth is Surrounded by Some of Orange County’s Poorest]

“This is extremely generous — how about we put it that way? It’s hard to sell to the taxpayers who will fund that cost when they are not seeing that kind of increase in the private sector,” said City Councilmember Denise Barnes, a former Republican who turned Independent, the only council member at the time who sided with Moreno, a Democrat, on local issues. 

“What happens when those reserves run out?” Barnes said. “Reserves are for unanticipated expenses. To count on drawing down our emergency fund for discretionary expenses is irresponsible and not something I can approve.”

Moreno, reflecting on that 2020 vote in a Friday phone interview, said he sensed that a decision on that contract had already been made “long before they (staff) came to council and presented it to the public.” 

“I also noticed towards the end of my tenure, that I was increasingly getting a sense that – based on conversations with staff – it seemed like these labor groups, particularly the public safety groups, knew what our last and best offer was,” Moreno said. “I got the sense by the end of these negotiations that that information had been given to them.”

This month, former Mayor Harry Sidhu – who resigned last year following revelations of the FBI’s corruption probe into City Hall – agreed to plead guilty to federal corruption charges resulting from the investigation.

According to the plea agreement, Sidhu leaked city information to the Angels negotiating team and destroyed public records about the now-dead Angel Stadium land sale. 

[Read: Ex-Anaheim Mayor Sidhu Agrees to Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges]

Moreno compared it to controversy over police contract talks in Santa Ana, when City Council Member Jessie Lopez claimed one or more of her police union-backed colleagues passed sensitive information to the police union during City Hall labor contract discussions.

[Read: Santa Ana City Council Doesn’t Trust its Police Negotiation Process]

He said public safety interests in Anaheim “wanted to make sure they kept their piece” – which was “already two-thirds of the city budget.” 

“You could see it in their endorsement processes and how they invested in campaigns, that Disney resorts, SOAR, the developers, the hoteliers, and public safety unions all seem to align on the exact candidate.”

Hampton said officers “earned every penny they were given.”

“The police didn’t have the luxury of not coming to work during Covid when everyone else was being paid to stay at home,” he wrote. “Ask any city right now that is hemorrhaging officers they will tell you competitive pay is how you retain and recruit because if not you end up losing your police force and have to use massive pay increases to fix the issue.”

As for the 17% raise he received at the time – that, he wrote, “was negotiated by the contract negotiations committee (not me) and the 17% number may sound large but is the same percentage raise an officer gets promoting from an officer to a police sergeant.”

Investigators’ report says the police union influenced city business in ways outside of campaign finance. 

The report goes on to describe a police union that, consciously or not, went to bat for the now-disgraced former mayor, Harry Sidhu, in a case of alleged gas station favoritism around 2019.

[Read: Did the Anaheim Police Go to Bat for Disgraced Former Mayor?]

In April of 2019, Hampton sent a letter to the Planning Commission opposing a proposed gas station that would have competed with a gas station owned by one of Sidhu’s political fundraisers, citing unaddressed public safety concerns and a document that showed the traffic accidents for that intersection over the prior year.

City employees told investigators it was unnecessary – and highly unusual – for the police union to have such a presence in the gas station deliberations, handing traffic studies to political consultants and taking positions on otherwise mundane project approvals. 

“I was aghast. It was very dirty, in my opinion,” said the city’s HR Director and former Interim City Manager, Linda Andal, to investigators in their report. 

Andal told investigators she felt “there was no reason for the POA (police officers association) to have such a strong presence at this meeting, and after the project was denied, she thought to herself, ‘We are going in a different direction.’”

Hampton’s letter was later “rescinded” by the police union, according to the report.

“I doubt the letter we submitted on traffic concerns on a project that was already getting variances was scuttled based solely on a single letter by the police association that was later removed anyway,” Hampton wrote. “And I wish I had half the influence you think I had for the city of Anaheim. It would have probably kept me from retiring if I could always get my way.”

Yet Anaheim residents like Moreno and Barnes see what’s happened with the police union role in local Anaheim politics in a very different light. 

The police union’s involvement in resort politics – “It didn’t make any sense, unless you sensed that it didn’t matter to these folks, the budgetary condition of Anaheim,” said Moreno. “It didn’t matter as long as they were themselves able to profit and benefit from our budget.”

“People of Anaheim be damned.” 

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.