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Anaheim independent investigation talks of conspiracy, Brown Act violations

The highly anticipated independent investigation ordered by the City Council into corruption in Anaheim was released Monday afternoon, detailing numerous instances of potential Brown Act violations, dealings by a mayor and council structure that went unchecked and money that appeared funneled to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and Visit Anaheim.

The $1.5 million probe followed the 2022 revelation of FBI investigations into former Mayor Harry Sidhu and former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Todd Ament, which included allegations a self-described “cabal” of business and political leaders had exerted significant influence in Anaheim City Hall. Sidhu resigned and the City Council canceled the sale of Angel Stadium.

While the version of the 353-page report made public has several redactions, the city is sharing a complete copy with the Orange County District Attorney, California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the FBI, officials have said. Anaheim councilmembers received an unredacted copy on Monday.

The report describes the close relationship between the city and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, saying that it appeared “as if the city was merely subsidizing the Anaheim Chamber with infusions of money on a near-yearly basis.”

The city-commissioned investigators say in their report that Sidhu directed a $6.5 million in “grant” funds to Visit Anaheim then orchestrated the firing of former City Manager Chris Zapata after Zapata suggested the city should be paid back the money with interest.

Sidhu then directed CEO and President of Visit Anaheim Jay Burress to divert $1.5 million of that money to the chamber. If Buress was questioned about the money, Sidhu directed him to cover his story by saying it came from other reserve funds from Visit Anaheim, investigators said.



Anaheim City spokesperson Mike Lyster said in a statement that the city has begun reviewing the report and will continue to do so in the coming days.

“The report is part of a process with constructive insights welcomed,” Lyster said. “We will also look to any direction from our City Council.”

Investigators from the JL Group collected nearly a million emails, more than 50,000 documents and conducted  more than 170 people. Anaheim spent $1.5 million on the investigation, which began last September. The investigation took more time and money than expected, and at one point even caused the City Council to consider ending it prematurely.

The city-funded investigation was tasked with examining questions of corruption, past campaign contributions, contracts, city dealings, council decisions and potential Brown Act violations, among other raised concerns.

Last year, an FBI investigator alleged that Sidhu may have tried to slip confidential information to a representative of Angels owner Arte Moreno and his business group in negotiations to purchase the city-owned stadium with the intention of soliciting a large campaign donation later.

The $320 million deal was scuttled by the City Council after news broke of the allegations and Sidhu resigned.

No criminal charges have been filed against Sidhu and his attorney has maintained that a thorough investigation would find no wrongdoing. FBI investigators noted in the affidavit it was unclear if the Angels representative knew of Sidhu’s intentions.

The investigation recommends placing a tighter hold on city money contributed  to the Chamber of Commerce and the Visit Anaheim tourism office and that the city try to “claw back” any money illegally received.

Under those recommendations no more money would be given by the city until full forensic audits were conducted on the chamber and Visit Anaheim and all their controlled nonprofits for the last seven years. Another accounting for a five-year period would be done each year before public money was given.

This story is developing, please check back for updates.

Source: Orange County Register

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