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TimesOC: Anaheim mayor quits in corruption probe; source says Disney power broker part of ‘cabal’

"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 Wednesday, May 25. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you today’s TimesOC newsletter with the latest roundup of news and events.

To the surprise of no one who has been watching the FBI public corruption probe of the city of Anaheim, its most recent mayor, Harry Sidhu, resigned Monday.

In an affadavit supporting a search warrant, Sidhu was accused of bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering related to the city’s controversial sale of Angel Stadium. Sidhu, a Republican who was elected in 2018, did not attend last week’s meeting of the Anaheim City Council, during which there were calls for his resignation.

The terse, two-paragraph announcement of the mayor’s resignation came from his attorney, Paul Meyer, who stated his client denied wrongdoing and decided to resign “to continue to act in the best interests of Anaheim and allow this great City to move forward without distraction,” according to the news report by our colleagues Nathan Fenno, Seema Mehta, Adam Elmahrek and Gabriel San Román.

“FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins alleged in the search warrant affidavit that Sidhu gave Major League Baseball’s Angels confidential information on at least two occasions during the city’s negotiations with the team over the $320-million Angel Stadium sale — and hoped to get a million-dollar campaign donation from the team,” according to the report. “The affidavit also accuses the mayor of obstructing an Orange County Grand Jury
investigation into the deal.”

As of this week, Sidhu, 64, has not been charged.

In their story, the reporters also detail the Anaheim investigation-related resignation over the weekend of Melahat Rafiei from her positions as a member of the Democratic National Committee and state party secretary. Rafiei identified herself as the confidential witness cited in one of the affidavits filed in the case who told the FBI of a tight group of people, a “cabal,” that was at work controlling the city’s fate.

The 44-year-old Rafiei is the former executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party and runs Progressive Solutions Consulting. “In Anaheim, she conducted work for Sidhu’s political rival, Democrat Ashleigh Aitken, who lost a bitterly contested race for mayor in 2018 by 478 votes,” the reporters note.

As the reporters continued their look at the FBI investigation, they learned from someone close to the probe that the prominent company mentioned in filings related to the case as “Company A” is Disneyland Resort, represented by Carrie Nocella, its director of external affairs as one of the Anaheim power brokers.

“Though neither the company nor Nocella have been accused of wrongdoing, their connection to the wide-ranging investigation that led to Harry Sidhu resigning as Anaheim mayor Monday underscores the immense influence the company wields in the city of 350,000 with a budget fueled by millions of visitors each year to the Disneyland Resort,” The Times’ report states.

The Times reporting team asked Disney about its identification as Company A in the court filings. “Disney said in a statement that, ‘We have seen media reports of the complaint and no authorities have reached out to us about it,’” according to the reporters.

City Hall is in damage control mode, posting a “news flash” to the city’s website last week that includes a promise to its citizens: “In the days ahead, Anaheim will continue to work administratively and with the City Council to address this difficult moment and move forward in the best interest of our city.”

A view of the entrance to Disneyland Park.
A source close to the investigation told L.A. Times reporters that the prominent company mentioned in filings related to the case as “Company A” is Disneyland Resort, represented by Carrie Nocella, its director of external affairs as one of the Anaheim power brokers.
(Allen J. Schaben /Los Angeles Times; Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

MORE NEWS

— A mountain lion sighting had a Newport Beach neighborhood on guard Friday evening, though state fish and wildlife officials reported that it was back to the wilderness for M317 — the same wildcat that’s been spotted in Laguna Beach and Irvine. Initial reports placed the cougar near the 1900 block of Port Cardigan Place.

The state fish and wildlife department released the mountain lion Friday.
The state fish and wildlife department released the mountain lion that prowled Newport Beach on Friday. Officials confirmed that cougar was M317, who has been sighted recently in other parts of Orange County.
(Courtesy of California Fish and Wildlife)

— National Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday for a 99-acre solar energy microgrid and storage project at Los Alamitos that will provide more than enough power to keep the base running for weeks after a major earthquake or other major disaster.

— Employees at Princess Bride Diamonds in Huntington Beach fought off four “smash and grab” robbers Sunday afternoon, likely saving the jewelry store from widespread loss, though about $7,700 in jewelry items were reported missing a day later.

Princess Bride Diamonds was a target of a smash and grab robbery attempt, but store employees fought off the thieves.
Princess Bride Diamonds was a target of a smash and grab robbery Sunday. The store employees fought off the thieves at the store, located at the Bella Terra Mall in Huntington Beach.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

— Anthony Thomas Garcia, 63, of Carson City was sentenced Monday to 25 years to life in prison for choking to death 81-year-old Abelardo Lopez Estacion of Newport Beach in April 2015.

— After a driver allegedly struck and injured three children, all under 12, Monday morning on a sidewalk near Taft Elementary School in Santa Ana, police found “incendiary devices” inside the car, authorities said. The incident was reported around 8:30 a.m. The vehicle continued to drive a short distance before it hit a parked car and came to a stop. Police found the 26-year-old male driver with a possibly self-inflicted stab wound, said Santa Ana Police Officer Maria Lopez.

LIFE & LEISURE

“A Night to Radiate,” a prom night organized especially for individuals on the autism spectrum, is being planned by the Fount Church in Fountain Valley. The dance will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, and it will be open to individuals who are at least 13 years of age and on the spectrum. Formal attire is not required, and tickets come at no cost to families. It will be held on the church campus at 18225 Bushard St., Fountain Valley. Those interested in volunteering can visit radiatepossibilitycamp.org, which is also the website for event registration.

— A Fountain Valley native who rose through the ranks to become the first woman to lead a U.S. Army infantry division relinquished her command capping a 36-year military career on May 15. Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager departed the Los Alamitos-based 40th Infantry Division after leading 10,000 soldiers from the Army National Guard who serve across the West Coast of the United States and as far away as Hawaii and Guam.

Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager hands off the 40th Infantry Division's battle colors to Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin.
Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager hands off the 40th Infantry Division’s battle colors to Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, adjutant general of California, during the change of command ceremony on May 15 at Camp Roberts, San Luis Obispo.
(Courtesy of U.S. Army Staff Sgt.)

— Fans of New Orleans culture, seafood and Cajun spices had the opportunity to savor the three-day Crawfish Festival at Fountain Valley Sports Park last weekend. The festival debuted at its new location after operating for 26 years out of Rainbow Lagoon in Long Beach.

Troy Hassett, left, and Isaiah Dotson, center, transfer freshly cooked crawfish into a wagon during the Crawfish Festival.
Troy Hassett, left, and Isaiah Dotson, center, along with several other people transfer 250 pounds of freshly cooked crawfish into a wagon during the Crawfish Festival at Fountain Valley Sports Park on Friday in Fountain Valley.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

SPORTS

— The Estancia High School baseball team on Saturday earned a dramatic 2-1 victory over Anaheim at Cal State Fullerton for the first CIF title in program history.

The Estancia baseball team celebrates beating Anaheim 2-1 in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 title game Saturday.
The Estancia High baseball team celebrates beating Anaheim 2-1 after 11 innings in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 title game at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

— Three former Mater Dei quarterbacks who went on to win the Heisman Trophy were feted Tuesday at the Meruelo Athletic Center at the Santa Ana private school. John Huarte (Mater Dei Class of 1961), Matt Leinart (2001) and Bryce Young (2020) were honored and speeches were given by coach Bruce Rollinson and former president Patrick Murphy. Eric Sondheimer covered the event, writing, “It was a ‘once a Monarch, always a Monarch love fest,’ with Rollinson receiving vocal support in the face of ongoing scrutiny regarding allegations of locker room misconduct involving the football program.”

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.