In the latest development in the FBI’s corruption probe in Orange County, Todd Ament, the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, reached a plea agreement in which he plead guilty to several counts of fraud, according to reports in the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times.
Ament resigned as chamber president in October of 2021.
Ament was arrested in mid-May by the FBI and initially charged with mortgage fraud.
The OC Register reports that under the plea agreement, Ament admits he “knowingly devised and participated in a scheme to defraud” a cannabis company; lied to obtain a pandemic relief which he spent on personal expenses; and made false statements to secure a mortgage; and substantially underreported his income on several years of tax returns.
The FBI investigation that led to Ament’s arrest began in 2018 as a probe into allegation of cannabis-related corrupt activity in Irvine. This led to the FBI turning Democrat political consultant and cannabis lobbyist Melahat Rafiei into an informant. According to the FBI complaint filed at the time of Ament’s arrest, Rafiei and another cannabis consultant were working Ament and an unnamed political consultant on a project to gain approval of legal cannabis businesses in Anaheim.
According to the OC Register:
The court documents describe a 2019 scheme in which Ament allegedly solicited a cannabis company and its consultant to pay the chamber $225,000 to create a task force that would draft rules allowing cannabis sales in Anaheim and lobby city officials to approve them.
Some of the money was funneled to a separate unnamed consulting company, owned by a person described as “co-schemer 1;” the consulting company would supposedly handle the task force, lobbying and related opinion polling. The company then gave “several ‘kickback’ payments, totaling at least $41,000” to Ament, the documents said. In Ament’s plea agreement, federal authorities also allege that in April 2020 he fraudulently obtained a pandemic small business loan, saying he needed “working capital” for his consulting business, but actually used the money to pay property taxes and buy clothes and other items for himself. Both of those allegations are considered wire fraud, because they involved wire transfers of money. The third count in the plea agreement alleges Ament lied about his income when seeking the mortgage, saying bank deposits of $205,000 were earnings from consulting work rather than a loan to pump up his assets. The final count to which Ament is expected to plead guilty is filing a false tax return and failing to report more than $300,000 of income for 2019. The plea agreement alleges he also underreported his income for 2017 and 2018.
The agreement requires Ament to fully cooperate with federal authorities and provide any requested information. He could be required serve prison time, pay a range of fines and restitution, and forfeit any assets gained as a result of these schemes.
In a statement issued at the time of the arrest, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce stated, “We at the chamber are shocked by the public allegations about former President and CEO Todd Ament, who separated from the chamber last year. We feel saddened and angered by these disturbing allegations and will cooperate with any law enforcement inquiries.”
Ament is also implicated in the FBI’s corruption probe of former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, which led to his resignation on May 23. The FBI alleges that during negations between the City of Anaheim and the Angels over a stadium agreement, Sidhu passed confidential information to the Angels in the hopes they would donate $1 million to an independent expenditure supporting his re-election. The FBI also alleges Sidhu tried to dodge paying higher taxes on his personal helicopter by registering it in Arizona. The former mayor has not been charged.