Anaheim businessman alleges corrupt ‘conspiracy’ foiled his proposed gas station

Isa Bahu leans against a railing overlooking a vacant lot in Anaheim.
Isa Bahu leans against a railing overlooking a vacant lot in Anaheim where he sought to build an Arco gas station. In a federal lawsuit against the city, he claims a “civil conspiracy” denied him that opportunity.
(Eric Licas )

Before an FBI probe into Anaheim political corruption became public and halted the sale of Angel Stadium two years ago, an explosive new federal lawsuit claims that city power brokers engaged in a “civil conspiracy” against a proposed gas station.

Isa Bahu, a local businessman, sought to build an Arco gas station across the street from a Shell station at a major Anaheim Hills intersection. His father had owned and operated an Arco station at the lot for decades until the city demolished it in the mid-’90s to widen a street.

In 2019, planning commissioners voted to recommend the Arco for approval, but former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and a majority of City Council members stopped the gas station from going forward.


The suit, which was filed on April 26, claims that the conspiracy was related to bigger corruption scandals in the city that “enabled a den of vampiric fat cats” and is to blame for foiling Bahu’s gas station, which would have competed with the Shell station owned by a Sidhu supporter.

“When you find that it was purposely not approved, that they went out of their way to commit fraud and corruption to stop it, that’s wrong,” Bahu said. “It was rigged from the get go.”

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The suit, which alleges violations of 1st Amendment rights, procedure and open meeting laws, names former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Todd Ament, who FBI agents tagged as a “ringleader” of a self-described “cabal” that ran Anaheim as a defendant, as well as the city.

“Former members of the City Council and the mayor’s office have sold their votes, influence, contracts, voice and have conspired with Mr. Ament to both attempt to extort money from Mr. Bahu and to maintain an illegal monopoly interest,” it claims.

Bahu sued Anaheim before in December 2019 in hopes of getting a new hearing on his gas station, but the case was delayed due the pandemic before being withdrawn in 2022.

After the political corruption probe surfaced in Anaheim and led Sidhu and Ament to plead guilty to multiple felonies, Bahu filed a new lawsuit alleging that his civil rights were violated.

“This is about something much broader, deeper and more sinister,” said Steve Baric, an attorney representing Bahu. “We know now that there was corruption in the city. It violated my client’s civil rights and now we want monetary damages.”

Between 2015 and 2019, Bahu reports having spent $300,000 trying to get his gas station approved.

Baric estimates that Bahu has lost out on millions of dollars due to the council’s vote to block the station. A definitive price tag on the cost of alleged corruption would come from the court, if it found in Bahu’s favor.

Mike Lyster, a city spokesman, said that Anaheim, though aware of the new suit, hasn’t been served yet.

“Once we formally receive it, we will turn our attention to reviewing it,” he added. “Beyond that, any additional comment at this time would be premature.”

The suit states that it wasn’t until Anaheim hired the JL Group to carry out an independent investigation in the wake of the FBI probe that Bahu learned of new details about how his gas station was blocked through the resulting 353-page report publicly released in July.

Bahu stands across the street from a Shell station where he alleges corruption preserved an "illegal monopoly interest."
Bahu stands across the street from a Shell station at La Palma Avenue and Imperial Highway in Anaheim Hills, where he alleges civic corruption preserved an “illegal monopoly interest.”
(Eric Licas)

“I was naive,” Bahu said. “I didn’t realize what was going on behind the scenes.”

Investigators interviewed Bahu and concluded that Sidhu “went about wrongfully denying” the proposed gas station due to the influence of campaign contributions by Navaz Malik, the Shell station owner, who appealed the planning commission’s vote.

A review of campaign finance documents by TimesOC shows that Malik’s contributions in support of Sidhu’s political campaigns date back at least to his first successful run for Anaheim City Council in 2004.

When Sidhu ran for mayor in 2018, Malik, once again, contributed to his campaign.

As mayor, the suit alleges, Sidhu used Ament as his political “fixer.”

Bahu claimed that Ament reached out to his sister in 2018 with a cryptic quid pro quo offer before asking Bahu himself for $50,000 to help with his gas station application.

As the council vote neared the following year, Bahu said he reached out to Ament about his proposed gas station. Bahu claimed that Ament told him he was “screwed” and would have been fine if he hired him a year ago.

“Mr. Ament will respond in court,” said a spokesman for Ament’s legal team.

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June 24, 2022

Citing the JL Group report, the complaint alleges that city planner Lucita Tong told Bahu in December 2018 that Sidhu and former City Councilman Trevor O’Neil had discussed his gas station plans with Ament at the planning department.

Sensing the project would be voted down, Tong encouraged Bahu to hire former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle as a consultant.

Bahu hired Grant Henninger, a current planning commissioner, at Pringle’s recommendation.

Henninger lobbied on Bahu’s behalf in meeting with several council members, including the late Jordan Brandman. He claimed in the independent investigation that Brandman told him that in order to get his vote, “we had to get the mayor’s vote, and [Jordan] was unwilling to vote against the mayor.”

Linda Andal, Anaheim’s current human resources director and a former interim city manager, told investigators that the vote against Bahu showed that Sidhu was taking the city in a different direction.

“I was aghast,” Andal said. “It was very dirty.”

Shell remains the only gas station at the busy intersection near the 91 Freeway
Shell remains the only gas station at a busy intersection near the 91 Freeway after Anaheim City Council voted down Bahu’s Arco station five years ago.
(Eric Licas)

Before his passing, Brandman told The Times last year that the gas station vote was one that he regretted.

In July 2019, a council majority voted to deny Bahu a rehearing.

According to the JL Group report, the FBI contacted Craig Hunter, a former Anaheim deputy police chief hired by Bahu as a private investigator, to discuss Sidhu’s involvement after council voted the gas station down.

To date, neither Ament nor Sidhu have been charged with or pleaded guilty to any crimes related to the denial of Bahu’s gas station. Both men have yet to be sentenced.

“The issues surrounding corruption in Anaheim have not been fully resolved,” Baric said. “There are people that are still on the city staff that were involved in this.”