Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has agreed to plead guilty to lying to federal investigators about trying to ram through the Angel Stadium land sale for up to $1 million in campaign support from the ball club.
“Defendant SIDHU falsely stated that he did not expect to receive any kind of benefit from the Purchaser in exchange for the successful completion of the sale of the Stadium to the Purchaser,” reads Wednesday filings in the U.S. District Court.
“In fact, as defendant SIDHU then knew, defendant SIDHU was expecting that the Purchaser would donate $1 million to a political action committee supporting defendant SIDHU’s re-election as Anaheim City Mayor in exchange for the successful completion of the Stadium sale to the Purchaser.”
Sidhu was recorded by the FBI making that claim without his knowledge.
“I am hoping to get at least a million from I’m going to be pushing it,” Sidhu is quoted in the agreement. “[Angel’s representative] actually asked me. He said ‘What can I do for your election?’ I said, ‘Let me finish your deal first and then we’ll talk about that.”
“So I’m going to be asking for a million dollars from him,” Sidhu continued. “For my election.”
While Sidhu has yet to formally plead guilty, he’s expected to in the coming weeks, according to a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Paul Meyer, Sidhu’s lawyer, offered a short statement on Wednesday when contacted by reporters and declined further comment.
“Former Mayor Sidhu appreciates the thorough and fair investigation by the United States Attorney’s office leading to a resolution in this matter,” Meyer said.
Marie Garvey, a spokesperson for the Angels, said in an email that neither the plea agreement or a recent independent corruption probe report shows no evidence of misconduct by the ball club.
“It is important to note both the Plea Agreement along with the City’s investigation showed no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Angels Organization,” Garvey wrote in an email after publication of the article.
City investigators said the Angels refused to be interviewed or cooperate with their probe.
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.
“My initial reaction is that I’m very pleased to hear that former Mayor Sidhu is being held accountable, but there are still huge issues that need to be resolved for Anaheim taxpayers concerning what’s going to be done with the stadium,” said State Senator Tom Umberg, who’s pushing the state legislature to reform public land deal processes.
After publication of this story, City Councilman Jose Diaz said he’s never heard about rehearsing council meetings.
“This happened before my time in Council. I have never participated in a mock City Council meeting and no, that is not a regular practice in Anaheim in fact, this is the first time I heard about anything like this, ” Diaz said in a Wednesday afternoon email.
In a Wednesday evening statement, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken issued a statement calling for reforms.
“This is a sad day for the city of Anaheim, and it’s possibly just the tip of the iceberg. The collusion between the former mayor, fellow council members, and the Angels is appalling and further shows the need for real reform,” Aitken said. “My resolve is strengthened that basic reforms are urgently needed to turn the city around and move us forward.”
Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.
Shortly after revelations of the FBI’s corruption probe surfaced last May, Sidhu resigned and the Angel Stadium land sale fell apart.
Former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, who federal agents and city investigators say was a close Sidhu ally, pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges last year.
After getting himself appointed as the city’s lead negotiator on the Angel Stadium land sale, federal prosecutors say Sidhu and unnamed team officials planned to rehearse city council meetings.
“Defendant also deleted an email message that the Angels consultant had sent to defendant, two City Council members, two City employees including the Chief Communications Officer, the President of the Angels, a Senior Vice President of the Angels, Ament, and others on September 20, 2020, entitled ‘Angels Deal Debate/Council Prep – ROUND 1,” reads the plea agreement.
Anaheim’s Chief Communications Officer, Mike Lyster, has faced criticism from former council members for promoting initiatives before city council members even voted on them.
In an interview earlier this month, former Councilwoman Denise Barnes criticized Lyster and other city officials for promoting the Angel Stadium land sale proposal ahead of the council’s December 2019 vote.
“It wasn’t presented to us yet and I would think you would want to have a lot of dialogue. Again we were in that outside circle and not in that inner circle – the frustration was always there,” Barnes said.
Sidhu’s also agreed to plead guilty to destroying records, “with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation and proper administration of a matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a department or agency of the United States, and in relation to and in contemplation of any such matter,” according to a court filing.
According to court documents, the former mayor also agrees to plead guilty to fraudulently using an Arizona address to register a helicopter to “avoid paying California’s 7.75% sales/use tax applicable to the purchase price of the helicopter.”
Sidhu also agreed to plead guilty to lying to the Federal Aviation Administration about his permanent mailing address.
The disgraced mayor could face up to 50 years in prison.
“Defendant understands, therefore, that the total maximum sentence for all offenses to which defendant is pleading guilty is: 50 years of imprisonment; a three-year period of supervised release; a fine of $1,000,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offenses, whichever is greatest; and a mandatory special assessment of $400,” reads the plea agreement.
The plea agreement describes how Sidhu and allied council members prepped for public debates on what would prove to be a hugely controversial public land deal, holding “mock” council meetings to rehearse deliberations over the deal in public with two unnamed council members and the team’s president.
The news comes after years of residents calling out alleged corruption in Anaheim.
And being dismissed.
Jeanine Robbins, a resident and member of the People’s Homeless Task Force, said in a Wednesday phone call the news was the “ultimate vindication.”
“I am elated,” she said. “He had city staff do his guilty dealings but he was the mastermind behind it.”
“I’ll be interested to see if he turns on anyone else.”
Former City Councilman Jose Moreno said he hadn’t heard about the plea agreement until reached by the Voice of OC in a Wednesday phone call.
He said Sidhu was one vote.
“The extent that he could make promises or commitments to any entity that he could get their development approved, or their project approved by the entire city council,” Moreno said. “Suggests strongly that other members of the Council were working at the directive of the mayor and or the self anointed shadow government cabal of Anaheim.”
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