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TimesOC: FBI corruption probe rattles Anaheim City Hall

"Sign up for our TimesOC newsletter" and the L.A. Times logo over the Huntington Beach Pier at sunset.
TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Friday, May 20. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you today’s TimesOC newsletter with the latest roundup of news and events.

“A year and a half ago, two power brokers in Anaheim discussed a critical question on the phone: Who should they invite to a secretive gathering of Anaheim business leaders, consultants and politicians?

“It would be a ‘retreat’ at a local hotel, and one of them described their small group as a ‘cabal.’ Attendance would be limited to people they could trust or, as they put it, ‘family members only.’

“What the men didn’t know was that the FBI was listening.”

So begins a news piece by our colleagues Nathan Fenno, Adam Elmahrek and Gabriel San Román, who this week peeled back the layers of alleged corruption in the storied city, the largest in our county, home to the Magic Kingdom, the Angels, the Ducks and a whole lot of souls, just over 353,000 of them, as of the 2020 Census.

The phone conversation of such interest to the FBI was between Todd Ament, then head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, and an unnamed political consultant, according to the story. Ament has been charged with lying to a mortgage lender, but that’s just part of the larger investigation into corruption that has also caught up one of Anaheim’s most prominent citizens, Harry Sidhu.

Sidhu is Anaheim’s sitting mayor, who, according to his bio on the city’s website, “believes in empowering the American Dream.” Sidhu’s vision is one that’s “inspired by his own experience making Anaheim his home and our city’s tradition of embracing bold thinking and a strong economy in support of residents and neighborhoods.”

At least some of Sidhu’s bold thinking apparently is not sitting well this week with his colleagues on the Anaheim City Council, who found the FBI’s allegations of corruption “concerning,” “troubling,” and “shocking,” according to coverage by San Román of their meeting Tuesday, when Sidhu was noticeably absent. In fact, one of them, Councilman Avelino Valencia, publicly called for Sidhu’s resignation. Valencia’s comments were greeted by applause from residents in the audience.

“In his affidavit, FBI special agent Brian Adkins found probable cause that Sidhu may have committed numerous crimes including fraud, bribery, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and providing confidential information in breach of the Brown Act to the Los Angeles Angels during negotiations on a development deal surrounding the baseball stadium in Anaheim,” San Román reported. It’s alleged Sidhu shared that information in return for a big donation to his reelection campaign coffers.

L.A. Times sports and business writer Bill Shaikin has been covering the nine-year saga of the city’s controversial sale of Angel Stadium for a long time now. On Thursday he wrote a commentary on the state of affairs the city has found itself in and what might be next for Angel Stadium. It’s worth a read.

More revelations are sure to come as this story unfolds. Stay tuned.

Harry Sidhu rallies against a living wage law as former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament speaks at City Hall.
In this file photo, Harry Sidhu, as a mayoral candidate, rallies against a living wage law as former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Todd Ament speaks at the steps of City Hall.
(Gabriel San Román )

MORE NEWS

— A collision that killed three people traveling in a 2022 Tesla Model S on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach May 12 is the subject of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it was reported Wednesday.

A lman stops to look at a sidewalk memorial shrine in honor of the three victims who died in the May 12 crash.
A man stops to look at a sidewalk memorial shrine in honor of the three victims who died in the crash, including popular artist Andy Chavez, at the location on West Coast Highway near Newport Boulevard May 12.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

— The Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday night approved a conditional use permit and tentative tract map for a 48-unit condominium complex to be built near the intersection of Beach Boulevard and Ellis Avenue. The project was previously rejected by the Planning Commission in 2019 and the City Council the following year, resulting in multiple lawsuits being filed. Revisions to the Housing Accountability Act have greatly reduced, and practically eliminated, local discretion to deny projects, a city staffer advised the City Council.

— Members of the local Native American community are hoping to preserve the land of an ancient village in San Juan Capistrano while the city is considering several developments on the space. My colleague Ben Brazil outlines three development proposals being considered by the SJC City Council.

LIFE & LEISURE

— Ali Coyle is the wine director for her Irish family’s restaurant group that includes Wine Works for Everyone and Dublin 4 Gastropub in Mission Viejo and Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach. But when she isn’t decanting wine, she is composing music. On May 26, she kicks off her first solo West Coast tour at the Wayfarer in Costa Mesa.

Ali Coyle, 32, a Santa Ana-based singer and songwriter, poses for a portrait at the Wayfarer
Ali Coyle, 32, a Santa Ana-based singer and songwriter, poses for a portrait at the Wayfarer on Tuesday in Costa Mesa. Coyle embarks on a West Coast tour for her 2021 album release, “Songs for My Therapist.” The first stop on her tour will be at the Wayfarer in Costa Mesa on May 26.
(Kevin Chang / TimesOC)

— In her column appearing this weekend in the Daily Pilot, Patrice Apodaca writes on the Irvine based Spectrum Speakers Gavel Club, a Toastmasters group for people with autism spectrum disorder that recently learned its unique program is being studied by researchers who hope to develop a similar program that can be adopted in other communities.

— Meet Estrella Rivera, a senior at Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana who plans to pursue a degree in civil engineering at Cal State University Fullerton. Thanks to guidance she says she’s grateful to have received from a mentor in the College Bound program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, Rivera was recently named the recipient of a $10,000 scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation.

Estrella Rivera, a participant in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast College Bound program.
Estrella Rivera, a participant in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast College Bound program has been awarded a $10,000 scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation.
(Scott Smeltzer / TimesOC)

SPORTS

— After a groundswell of support to recognize Bill Sumner, the new track at Corona del Mar High School will bear his name. The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday evening to name the facility after the coach, who is now in his 39th season coaching the cross-country and track and field programs at the school.

Bill Sumner, the Corona del Mar High School cross-country and track and field coach, stands in appreciation.
Bill Sumner, the Corona del Mar High School cross-country and track and field coach, stands in appreciation during a school board meeting after the board voted unanimously to name the new track after him.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

— The L.A. Chargers, headquartered in O.C.'s Costa Mesa, broke ground Wednesday for their new training facility in El Segundo. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2024. Until then, the
Chargers will remain in Costa Mesa, where they have been headquartered since relocating from San Diego in 2017.

Father John Bakas splashes holy water on Chargers safety Derwin James during the L.A. Chargers groundbreaking ceremony.
Father John Bakas splashes holy water on Chargers safety Derwin James during the Los Angeles Chargers groundbreaking ceremony for the team’s future headquarters and training facility Wednesday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

— Art Hernandez of Huntington Beach did more than just compete in the International Tennis Federation men’s 55-and-over world team championships earlier this month in Boca Raton, Fla. He and Team USA dominated. Hernandez was team captain and one of four players on the United States squad, which came away with the Austria Cup on May 6 after defeating Italy in the title match.

Art Hernandez at the Huntington Club in Huntington Beach.
Art Hernandez at the Huntington Club in Huntington Beach. Hernandez was on the USA team that won the International Tennis Federation men’s 55s world championship in Florida on May 6. Team USA defeated Great Britain, Argentina, Australia, Germany and Italy for the title.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

KEEP IN TOUCH

If you have a memory or story about Orange County, we would love to read it (please keep your submission to 100 words or less).

We want your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Send your memory of life in O.C., news tips or comments to carol.cormaci@latimes.com or benjamin.brazil@latimes.com.