Did the FBI’s stadium corruption probe put an end to the Angels’ dream field in Anaheim?

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What is the future of the Angel Stadium Deal?

That’s the question Anaheim City Council members will be asking at their meeting tomorrow, just a week after an FBI investigation into Mayor Harry Sidhu’s corruption was revealed.

Federal officials allege Sidhu tried to rush the deal through so he could fund his Angels re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, the Angels have written to city leaders saying their deal was negotiated fairly and is expected to be finalized this month.

[Read: Angels Owner is Pushing Anaheim to Finalize Stadium Deal, Regardless of FBI Corruption Probe]

Residents are also wondering which Anaheim city officials and staff were involved in the alleged corruption.

After all, Sidhu isn’t the only one the Feds are watching.

Former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Ament now faces charges of mortgage fraud, including allegations of public corruption, detailed in a 99-page criminal complaint released Monday.

The investigation uncovered what FBI officials in wiretaps reveal to be a self-proclaimed government “cabal” centered around Ament and the chamber, Sidhu and the town’s resort industry.

[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]

According to the complaint, Ament and the lobbyists would hold “retreats” to discuss business across the city and form new initiatives.

Now questions are swirling about which city council members and city administrators attended these so-called retreats.

Anaheim resident Jeanine Robbins, who for years publicly questioned stadium deliberations, said city officials and staff should face consequences for attending these types of invitational retreats. only with special interests.

“All employees who attended these retreats should be placed on administrative leave without pay and all elected officials who attended these retreats, in my opinion, are as involved as the mayor was in this corruption and they should resign” , she said in a phone call on Friday. .

Former Buena Park City Manager James Vanderpool listens to public feedback on a proposed homeless shelter. Vanderpool is now the city manager of Anaheim. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

In a statement sent to Voice of OC on Friday afternoon, City Manager Jim Vanderpool admitted to attending one of these so-called retreats on December 2, 2020 which included City Council members and House of Commons representatives. Anaheim trade.

“I’ve read the same descriptions as others, and it’s disheartening to see this reunion portrayed that way. That’s not what I experienced,” Vanderpool said of how the FBI described these special invite-only retreats.

[Read: ‘Family Members Only’: Anaheim’s City Manager Admits He Was At Private Briefing Called Out By FBI]

Voice of OC also reached out to members of the Anaheim City Council on Friday to find out if they attended those meetings or if they think senior city officials who attended should resign or be furloughed pending. further investigation.

Three council members answered the question; Councilor Jose Moreno, Avelino Valencia and Jose Diaz were the only ones to respond.

Moreno said in a phone interview Friday that he did not attend those meetings.

“I’ve never been on what’s called a retreat with the chamber of commerce,” he said, adding that he met with the Visit Anaheim board of directors when they were first elected in 2017. to introduce one’s self.

“They had spent so much money attacking me, I said, ‘Do you know who you are attacking?’ Let’s meet,” Moreno said, adding that he was never invited back.

Valencia said in a text message that he did not attend any of the meetings described in Ament’s complaint.

“This is an ongoing FBI investigation and the City of Anaheim will do everything possible to cooperate. I am confident that ultimately all culprits will be held accountable. There is no room for this type of corruption in the town hall,” Valencia wrote on Friday.

In an email Friday, City Councilman Jose Diaz denied attending or being invited to any of those meetings, but did not respond to a question about the consequences that city staff who attended the “pensions” should undergo pending an investigation.

City spokesman Mike Lyster also denied attending any of those meetings in an email Friday.

Council members Trevor O’Neil, Gloria Ma’ae and Stephen Faessel did not respond to calls, texts or emails for this story.

Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Meanwhile, the stadium deal survived public scrutiny, a lawsuit alleging Brown Law violations of the deal and the state attorney general ruled the sale a violation of the law on excess land.

But now the future of the Angel Stadium deal is up in the air.

Moreno said he hoped the discussion would provide direction on the stadium deal.

“This land deal was a mistake,” he said. “My hope is that we were looking to restart and also looking to further investigate all aspects of building this deal, who was involved.”

He also wants a discussion on what a new negotiation process will look like and whether the city council members who backed the original deal should manage it.

Tomorrow’s talk of Angel Stadium comes at the request of Valencia, who in last week’s meeting called on the absentee Sidhu to step down.

“Everyone has the right to a legal defence,” Valencia said during last week’s meeting. “However, the evidence released yesterday on audio tape by the Attorney General’s office makes it abundantly clear that Mayor Harry Sidhu broke the law and violated his oath of office to this city.”

“The instability and shame that these actions have brought to the city cannot remain without consequence,” he continued. “Let our city move forward from this chapter.”

Anaheim City Councilman Avelino Valencia listens to speakers during the July 20, 2021 City Council meeting. Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of CO

Those calls have been echoed by residents of council chambers who have come forward for years to denounce the stadium deal for lack of transparency.

Some have even called on Valencia and other board members to step down as well.

[Read: Orange County Reacts to FBI Corruption Probe in Anaheim; Calls For Sidhu to Resign Roar]

But calls for Sidhu to step down may be moot.

Under the city’s charter, a seat automatically becomes vacant if a council member misses two regularly scheduled meetings without an excused absence within a month.

“The last meeting Mayor Sidhu attended was on April 26. If absent on May 24, that represents two unexcused absences within 30 days,” wrote city spokesman Mike Lyster, in an email Friday. “The Council has yet to take formal action to declare him vacant.”

Lyster said in his email that the charter called for a nomination to fill a vacancy on the board within 60 days or a special election would be called.

“In this potential situation, the charter would allow the seat to go before voters in November as planned, given the timing of this election,” he wrote. “Because we don’t have a vacancy from where we sit at the moment, we haven’t done our due diligence yet, but we expect to do so if we come across a vacancy. But it gives an idea of ​​what we could expect.

Anaheim City Councilman Jose F. Moreno at the July 20, 2021 city council meeting. Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of CO

Councilor Moreno affirmed calls for Sidhu’s resignation last week during the meeting and called on the city to sever ties with the chamber of commerce and the resident advisory group they created to make spending recommendations to the council called Anaheim First.

He also wants a thorough investigation of city staff and for Disney to stop contributing to political campaigns in Anaheim.

“The FBI affidavit,” Moreno said at the meeting. “raises disturbing questions about the nature of transactions made at the mayor’s discretion with the acquiescence of his majority of lawyers over the past three and a half years.”

[Read: Calls for Investigations, Resignations Echo in Anaheim After FBI Stadium Sale Probe]

In an interview Friday, Moreno said he didn’t know enough about the staff members involved and that’s why he called for an investigation.

“My call for the investigation was not because I assumed staff were complicit in illegal and unethical behavior,” he said. “But I want to make sure we can say for sure they weren’t and if any of them were, we’ll deal with those people.”

Other council members – who regularly sided with Sidhu on the dais – expressed shock at the FBI agent’s findings on the mayor but did not call on him to resign at the meeting of last week.

The next day, they changed their tone.

Council members Trevor O’Neil, Jose Diaz and Stephen Faessel sent a letter Wednesday to Sidhu’s attorney asking him to resign.

[Read: Anaheim Mayor Sidhu’s Council Majority Flips, Demands His Resignation Amidst FBI Corruption Probe]

Councilor Gloria Ma’ae then released her own statement that day calling on Sidhu to step down as well.

“I support law enforcement efforts to eradicate corruption in our city. Anaheim deserves leaders of integrity and my board colleagues, and I must be held to the highest ethical standards,” she said in the statement, adding that she supports a full investigation.

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The Sidhu investigation has already led an Orange County Superior Court judge to suspend the sale of the land at Angel Stadium — a deal brokered by the mayor — that would have left the city $150 million and the Angels the stadium and the ground on which it is located.

[Read: OC Judge Halts Angel Stadium Sale Amidst FBI Corruption Probe of Anaheim Mayor]

But the Angels want the deal finalized by June 14.

Tuesday’s meeting will be held at Anaheim City Hall and will begin at 5 p.m.

Residents can attend the meeting in person or watch it live on the city’s website.

Moreno said Friday that people may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in them and called the “cabal”.

“Corruption and this unethical behavior flourishes because it depends on the public and the media not watching,” he said.

“Their whole setup was to create a regime through the city council, the mayor and their shadow government, to do things, presumably in the name of the people, but without the consent of the people.”

Reporters Spencer Custodio and Brandon Pho contributed reporting for this article.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and a body member of Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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