As some of Orange County’s biggest taxpayer scandals get more public attention in cities like Anaheim, the county’s top prosecutor charged with cracking down on public corruption faces hard questions about the pots boiling over in his kitchen. 

A newly-released report on corruption at Anaheim City Hall put renewed focus on District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s approach, painting an ugly picture of a political fast lane for Disneyland resort lobbyists and influence peddling on his watch. 

Concerns in Anaheim

The probe’s conclusions – released late Monday – detail how city leaders came up with “cover stories” for the misuse of millions in federal pandemic bailout money on Disneyland resort groups, exclusive retreats in which resort allies strategized to deflate their opposition from poorer Latino parts of town, and council members’ tendency to leak confidential negotiation information to resort leaders concerning major public land deals.

The report – prepared by investigators overseen by a retired judge – also points to an unhelpful District Attorney’s office under Todd Spitzer, who investigators say voiced concerns that their probe might take too long, right on the heels of public pressure from city council members earlier this year. 

“We received this call after being publicly questioned by the City Council and asked to disclose if we had uncovered any potential violations of criminal law,” investigators wrote in page 15 of their 353-page report. 

To read the investigators’ report, click here.

They added:

“The District Attorney became concerned that any criminal actions uncovered through this investigation might be barred from prosecution, should any applicable statute of limitations expire prior to completion and delivery of this report.”

Investigators said they were ready to resolve that issue with Spitzer’s office right away.

According to their report, on March 8 – with the permission of City Council members – investigators said they met with Spitzer and 15 members of his office to share initial findings concerning “a potential criminal conspiracy” and potential “theft” of $1.5 million in federal dollars by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

But the investigators said they never heard from Spitzer’s office again. 

“It is not known whether the District Attorney’s office is engaged in their own investigation at this time,” wrote investigators in their report, adding:

“It was our hope that the District Attorney’s Office would open its own investigation and would, if possible, share subpoenaed information with [us] so as to bolster our ability to more efficiently investigate the aspects of our investigation that we felt were potentially criminal in nature.”

Especially since Spitzer’s office has investigatory tools that private investigators do not.

In a statement to Voice of OC about the Anaheim corruption probe on Tuesday, Spitzer said through a DA spokesperson, “I am reviewing with my team to evaluate it for potential criminal conduct and I have no time frame at this time on any decisions.”

Questions in Santa Ana

Anaheim isn’t the only city where local leaders have called attention to unchecked power in their local halls of government.

In recent years, Santa Ana residents wondered if anyone would look into the controversial police union leader who city officials say once threatened to “burn the city to the ground unless he gets what he wants,” which for most of that time, was a boost to his public pension. 

Serrano did not return a call for comment. 

[Read: Santa Ana Officials: Police Union Boss Threatens to ‘Burn the Place Down’ to Boost His Pension]

The result was a public and largely unsuccessful legal battle between Serrano and top City Hall leaders, while the union under him faced public comparisons to “organized crime” and council charges of obtaining confidential city information during sensitive labor negotiations.

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

Yet it’s largely gone unnoticed by top county prosecutors. 

Spitzer’s predecessor, Tony Rauckackas, declined to charge Serrano over Westminster DUI allegations, citing a lack of evidence while never addressing Serrano’s alleged refusal to submit to the blood and breath tests.

After Spitzer beat Rackauckas in the District Attorney election of 2018, Spitzer the following year told Voice of OC he reviewed the Serrano DUI police reports and said he should have been charged. 

“I absolutely would have filed it,” Spitzer told Voice of OC in an interview that year. “We file those cases every single day in our sleep. That is a classic DUI refusal.”

[Read: ‘Slurred’ Speech and a Blood Test Refusal: Report Details Police Leader’s Alleged DUI]

Yet Spitzer himself has enjoyed campaign support from the Santa Ana police union.

In a recent interview, one Santa Ana City Council member says he would have appreciated more attention from the district attorney to Serrano’s activities, seeing as Spitzer criticized his predecessor as letting public corruption in OC run rampant.

“I would appreciate it if Spitzer kept his own word,” said City Council member Ben Vazquez in a Tuesday phone interview when asked about the situation with the local police union in Santa Ana.  

Meanwhile, the union under Serrano has launched efforts over the years to unseat multiple elected officials who challenged police pay and benefits in that city. 

Serrano was a key leader in recalling a Republican council member who opposed controversial police pay raises that passed in 2019, and in the current attempted recalls of two Democrats for their opposition to more raise demands last December.

Serrano’s also fueled a fierce police department loyalty battle with Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin, who Serrano himself publicly called on Spitzer to review. 

In January of 2022, Serrano’s attorney sent five letters to Spitzer’s office requesting criminal charges against Valentin, requests which Spitzer referred to the Attorney General, citing a “conflict of interest” in the Serrano matter that DA officials have since refused to elaborate on. 

Spitzer has yet to publicly disclose that “conflict.”

On Monday, city officials announced that Serrano was no longer employed at City Hall.

[Read: Santa Ana City Hall Parts Ways With Controversial Police Union Leader]

Similarly, a host of neighborhood voices in Anaheim have been sounding off on suspected lawlessness at their City Hall for years, especially over the past year, after the two written FBI affidavits – painting the clearest picture yet of public impropriety – were made public.

[Read: Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu Resigns After FBI Reveals Anaheim Corruption Probe]

Worries in Westminster

In Westminster, local leaders have gone as far as writing to Spitzer’s office. 

On the same day the Anaheim report dropped, Westminster resident Terry Rains sent an email to City Council members asking why the conclusions of an internal city probe – into a suspect and potentially criminal sale of public parkland in 2016 by City Council members – had seemingly sat in limbo for almost a full year. 

Rains CC’d Spitzer’s office in her emailed letter.

It’s now almost been two years since a majority of Westminster City Council members publicly voted to request Spitzer’s office get involved in probing the privatization of a public chunk of Liberty Park – expressing shock that such a sale could happen so easily in one of Orange County’s most park poor cities.

[Read: Why Did One of Orange County’s Most Park Poor Cities Quietly Sell Off a Slice of Its Own Public Park?]

Yet Spitzer’s office told city leaders they would hold back on investigating, pending the outcome of the city’s own probe that elected leaders ordered, according to documented correspondence between his office and Westminster’s city attorney, Christian Bettenhausen, who himself has been tied to the suspect land sale in question.

Responding to questions on Tuesday, the DA spokesperson said Spitzer’s office has gotten the ball rolling on Westminster. 

“We have received the City’s independent investigation and are in the process of reviewing it,” Eddds wrote in a text message.

Edds did not respond when asked exactly when Spitzer’s office received the findings and initiated its own probe. 

Rains, who sent her email on Monday, said Spitzer’s receipt of the investigation was news to her on Tuesday.

“We, the residents, deserve to know when that happened,” said Rains, reacting to Edds’ announcement on Tuesday.

Requests for comment and more information about the city’s findings went unreturned on Tuesday from Westminster City Manager Christine Cordon and City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen. 

Rains’ Monday email reads:

“It is unacceptable that the City of Westminster has not yet ‘processed’ and ‘forwarded’ the results of the internal probe to higher level agencies for further investigation/prosecution!” Rains wrote in her Monday email. “If the City has done so, that should be reported to the public and a redacted copy of the internal investigative report should be made available immediately.”

She added: 

“There are mounting questions as to why the DA would wait for those who had a role in this questionable sale to let them (DA) know if any laws were violated.”

Or what they have found.

Another resident and City Hall observer, Tim Hogan, said in a Monday phone interview he was surprised that the city was handling the park sale internally. 

“I’m surprised it’s taken as long as it has, seemingly by the people that are being investigated,” Hogan said. “It seems to me to be one of those situations of unaccountability.”

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