Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has pled guilty to four federal charges stemming from an FBI investigation into his role in the now-dead sale of Angel Stadium: one count each of wire fraud, obstruction of justice, making a false statement to the FBI and making a false statement to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Sidhu was served with a search warrant by the FBI in early May of 2022, and resigned as mayor a few days later under pressure from the city council. The blast radius from this and the arrest of former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament has been reverberating in Anaheim politics ever since, and continues inflicting damage to any number of individuals and organizations that were not involved in their actions.
The plea agreement can be read here.
The wire fraud charge pertains to Sidhu – who led the city’s negotiations with the Angels – e-mailing confidential information about the city’s negotiating strategy to the Angels, using intermediaries.
The obstruction charge stems from Sidhu deleting multiple e-mails “with the intent to impede and obstruct the FBI’s investigation of public corruption surrounding the City’s potential sale of Angel Stadium.” These included a July 21, 2020 e-mail to an Angels consultant and then-Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament containing confidential city documents pertaining to stadium negotiations – including information drafted of the city’s attorney “related to price and other purchase/sale terms.”
Ament began the process of separating from the Chamber in 2021 and resigned later that year. He pled guilty to several counts to several counts of fraud in June of 2022.
According to the plea agreement, Sidhu was “using the Angels consultant and Ament to provide that confidential inside information to the Angels so that the Angels could use that information in the negotiations with the City to purchase the stadium on terms beneficial to the Angels.”
The making false statement count stems from Sidhu’s denying to the FBI following being served with the search warrant that he had conducted city business from his personal e-mail, and also denying that he had expressed his desire for the Angels to spend $1 million toward his re-election. Both denials contradicted covertly recorded statements Sidhu made during conversations with Ament, who was wearing a wire for the FBI.
The charge of making a false statement to the FAA stems from Sidhu’s attempt to avoid paying $15,887 in sales tax revenue on a helicopter her bought in October 2020 by pretending he lived in Arizona. Sidhu has since written the State of California a check for $15,887, according to the agreement.
Sidhu signed the plea agreement yesterday.
It’s unclear how much time Sidhu will serve. The US Attorney’s Office agreed to “recommend a two-level reduction in the applicable Sentencing Guidelines offense level…and, if necessary, move for an additional one-level reduction if available under that section.”
Sidhu is also subject to fines that could exceed $1,000,000.
The sentencing judge is not bound by the US Attorney’s promises to recommend more lenient sentencing.
The Sidhu scandal has scrambled Anaheim politics since it broke in May of last year.
Prior to the scandal, Sidhu was preparing for a re-election re-match with his 2018 opponent, Democrat Ashleigh Aitken – which looked to be bruising, hard-fought and expensive. Although Democrats hold a strong edge in voter registration in Anaheim, Sidhu was in a strong position with the stadium deal under his belt, a led-us-through-COVID message to tell and a campaign warchest approaching $400,000.
The FBI scandal vaporized Sidhu’s candidacy and political career, and Aitken became the immediate front-runner. Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil jumped into the race in late summer, but Aitken won a convincing victory in November.
Following Sidhu’s resignation, the City Council decided to authorize an investigation into the Stadium deal that was broadened into a wider search for potential corruption going back a decade. In the early Fall, the council hired the JL Group, a small firm of retired police officers whose primary business was HR investigations. JL Group proposed to do the work for $750,000 – half of what the competing firms bid – and explicitly assured the council they could do the job for that amount.
In early 2023, JL Group told the city they had spent most of the budget while claiming they had so much left to do that they needed another $750,000. The city council initially balked at JL Group’s demand and directed the firm to return with a modified scope and smaller augmentation request. The JL Group agreed to do so.
In a remarkable exercise in insubordination and chutzpa, the JL Group changed its mind, renewed its demand for another $750,000 and launched a media campaign to intimidate the council into doubling their budget. It worked and the city council caved in to its contractor’s demands.
Several months later, JL Group produced a nearly 400-page report characterized by serious omissions, presenting gossip and speculation as evidence, scores of factual errors, and general sloppiness. JL Group investigators wasted time working with gadflies and activists to plan their investigative strategy while failing to interview many key former city officials, and expended considerable time and money going down rabbit holes unrelated to the project scope.