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OC Register: Former Anaheim Mayor Sidhu agrees to plea deal for federal corruption charges


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Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has agreed to plead guilty to four federal charges, capping a years-long federal investigation into alleged corruption that led to his resignation and torpedoed the city’s $320 million sale of Angel Stadium.

In a deal announced Wednesday, Aug. 16, Sidhu will plead guilty to obstruction of justice, wire fraud, false statement to the Federal Aviation Administration and false statement to the FBI.

“Mr. Sidhu was elected by and pledged to work for the residents of Anaheim, but he violated that pledge and their trust on numerous occasions to look out for special interests,” Donald Alway, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles field office, said in a statement. “Mr. Sidhu deceived his colleagues and weakened the city’s official strategy by divulging intellectual property, then lied to the government when his corruption was discovered.”

In a statement Wednesday, Sidhu’s attorney Paul S. Meyer said, “Former Mayor Sidhu appreciates the thorough and fair investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office leading to a resolution in this matter.”

The total maximum sentence for all the offenses for which Sidhu has agreed to plea to is up to 50 years in prison, according to the agreement. He will next need to enter his plea in court and his actual sentencing is up to a judge at a later date and could be significantly shorter.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed that if the court imposes a prison term of no less than 30 months, it would waive its right to appeal the sentence.

The agreement comes two weeks after an independent city-commissioned investigation was released providing new details for how Sidhu and allies appear to have gone unchecked in City Hall dealings.

During the city’s negotiations to sell Angel Stadium to team owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership, Sidhu sought to become a member of the city’s negotiating team and then provided “confidential inside information belonging to the city” to former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament and to a consultant working for the Angels, “so that the Angels could buy Angel Stadium on terms beneficial to the Angels,” according to the plea agreement.

In 2019, Sidhu had also provided a confidential appraisal range related to Angel Stadium to Ament to give to the Angels before that figure was public, according to the plea agreement.

Sidhu was secretly recorded several months later saying he expected to ask for a $1 million campaign contribution toward his reelection from the Angels if they succeeded in buying the stadium, the plea agreement says. In an interview with FBI agents on May 12, 2022, days before the FBI’s investigation became public, Sidhu lied to the agents about expecting “nothing” from the Angels after the stadium deal closed, according to the plea agreement. Prosecutors also said Sidhu “falsely” told investigators that he did not recall providing stadium sale information during the negotiations.

Sidhu resigned in May 2022 following the revelation that the FBI was investigating the former mayor and the $320 million stadium deal was scuttled by the City Council.

Angels Organization spokesperson Marie Garvey said, “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.”

Ament’s attorneys, Joshua Robbins and Andrew Selesnick of Buchalter law firm, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The FBI’s investigation was underway since at least 2019, according to an affidavit filed last year in support of a request for search warrants that included information investigators said was gleaned from wiretaps and intercepted emails.

The plea agreement gives details about how Sidhu attempted to not pay California sales tax for a used helicopter he purchased for $205,000. He had registered the helicopter using a mailing address in Scottsdale, Arizona, to avoid paying $15,887 in taxes. The helicopter was stored in Chino.

Sidhu has already paid back the taxes, according to the plea agreement.

He also provided false information to the FAA when he submitted the Arizona mailing address as his own, the agreement says. The mailing address belonged to an unnamed Anaheim businessperson.

Sidhu and his attorneys signed the plea agreement on Monday, Aug. 14.

For the obstruction of justice charge, Sidhu would admit that he destroyed multiple email messages and documents “with the intent to impede the FBI’s investigation of public corruption surrounding the city’s potential sale of Angel Stadium,” according to the plea agreement.

One of the emails deleted was related to the Angel Stadium deal, which had “confidential negotiation information,” including issues around the price and terms, the plea agreement says.

The document, drafted by attorneys for the city,  included a section about parking and how it affected the value of land, the agreement says, and gave the example of how the team could “eliminate the requirement that they maintain at least 12,500 parking spaces so upon closing they could immediately amend the lease to limit their parking obligation and then flip the land for millions more than they paid for it.”

“Reducing their parking obligation by 4,000 spaces would translate to $64 million in increased land value,” according to the document referenced in the plea agreement.

Prosecutors said Sidhu told investigators he did not conduct city business using his personal email.

Also in the plea agreement are details about planning for mock council meeting sessions in advance of the council’s vote on the Angel Stadium sale.

Sidhu had deleted an email about the sessions that used personal addresses for him, two other unnamed council members and other city staff, the agreement says. Sidhu would purposely conduct city business using his personal email and communicate with some city staff’s personal email addresses as well, prosecutors said.

The deleted email, according to the agreement, said the prep sessions would include the then-mayor pro tem, another council member, the city’s chief communications officer, another city staffer, the unnamed Angels consultant, Ament, the president of the Angels and an attorney for the Angels.

The practice meeting would be held in three sessions, according to the agreement’s description, during which participants would debate the strengths, pitfalls and vulnerabilities of the stadium deal. The Angels team would develop what the agreement called “zingers,” responses and other points to improve the participants’ performance.

It appeared the mock meetings were intended be a dress rehearsal for the real one.

In strongly worded comments Wednesday, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said she was appalled by the alleged collusion between Sidhu, former council members and the Angels organization.

“If the allegations surrounding the Angels organization setting up a shadow council meeting are true, I don’t think the negotiations were in good faith and I would like to look into that,” Aitken said.

The Angels were supposed to be at arm’s length during the negotiations, Aitken said, and any future talks would have to be more transparent and with more community participation.

Overall, Aitken said Sidhu’s plea agreement unveiled just the “tip of the iceberg” of the problems with the city and further confirmed the need for reform.

She said the city also needs stronger restrictions and better enforcement to harness campaign financing and lobbyists who have run unfettered at City Hall.

“We need to make sure our policies are in line with other cities our size,” said Aitken.

In a city statement late Wednesday, a city spokesman said, “We are aware of and are reviewing the plea agreement, which reflects what was a challenging time for Anaheim. We look forward to our City Council’s ongoing consideration of reforms to protect our city and keep moving forward.”

According to the plea agreement, the two unnamed council members were assigned specifically to attack then-Councilman Jose Moreno, a strong critic of the stadium deal.

Moreno, who served from 2016 to 2022, said the new details in the plea agreement affirm what he felt at the time was a scripted strategy surrounding the Angel Stadium discussions.

“This is really tragic and unfortunate but not surprising,” Moreno said, “that high levels of our city staff were involved in these meetings and played with the trust of the people of Anaheim.”

Staff Writer Tony Saavedra contributed to this report.

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