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State attorney general asks for hold on Angel Stadium land sale amid corruption probe

Fans enter Angels Stadium before a baseball game.
Fans enter Angels Stadium before the team’s season opener against the Houston Astros in April.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Harry Sidhu made it his business and his campaign promise in 2018: I’m the mayor that is going to keep the Angels in Anaheim for decades to come.

In 2022, Sidhu is campaigning for re-election as mayor. The city had agreed to sell Angel Stadium and the surrounding parking lots to the team owner in 2019, but the state housing agency had found the deal in violation of California affordable housing law.

Anaheim could have redone the deal. Instead, the city remained liable for a $96-million fine.

That, according to an FBI affidavit filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, was because Sidhu wanted to see the deal through to solicit a campaign contribution from the Angels.

“We’ll push them at least [to] have a million dollars,” Sidhu said, unaware the FBI had arranged for the conversation to be recorded. “You know, for [an Angels official] to say ‘no’ is bad.”

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The Angels official was not identified.

On Monday, the state attorney general asked a court to put the $320 million sale on hold. The court filing explained why: a detailed FBI affidavit showed Sidhu is under investigation for public corruption, and the attorney general said he does not yet know whether the facts uncovered in the investigation could make the sale illegal.

“We will determine what this means for the stadium plan in the days ahead,” Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said in a statement.

Marie Garvey, the spokeswoman for Angels owner Arte Moreno’s company, declined to comment on Monday’s developments. She also declined to say whether Moreno wished to continue to pursue the project.

“It would be inappropriate to comment at this time,” Garvey said.

In the affidavit, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by anyone associated with the Angels and no evidence the proposed solicitation was made.

However, FBI special agent Brian Adkins wrote: “I believe Sidhu illustrated his intent to solicit campaign contributions, in the amount of $1,000,000 … in exchange for performing official acts intended to finalize the stadium sale for the Angels.”

Adkins also wrote that he found probable cause to believe that Sidhu shared confidential information about sale negotiations with the Angels — as the city was negotiating against the team — “with the expectation of receiving a sizeable contribution to his reelection campaign from a prominent Angels representative.”

Adkins also said Sidhu “has attempted to obstruct an Orange County grand jury inquiry into the Angel Stadium deal.” The agent also said he believed there was probable cause that Sidhu “may have engaged in criminal offenses,” including fraud, theft or bribery, making false statements, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, at his home in Anaheim.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, shown at his home, sought campaign contributions from the Angels, according to an FBI affidavit filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court.
(Karen Tapia / Los Angeles Times)

The attorney for Sidhu, Paul Meyer, said: “We are making no comment at this time.”

In a statement, Anaheim City Manager Jim Vanderpool said: “We are troubled by this. Throughout this process, Anaheim staff and the City Council have worked in good faith on a proposal that offered benefits for our community.

“What has been shared with us was unknown to the city administration before today, and what is being described falls outside of the city’s process on the stadium.”

Sidhu and the city administration carefully managed the release of stadium-related information to the public. In 2019, when the city extended the Angels’ window to opt out of their stadium lease by one year, the city declined to highlight that it also had reinstated the lease in full, giving the team control of the land through 2038. That meant the city had handcuffed itself in negotiations, since the option of demolishing the stadium in one year and selling the land for half a billion dollars was off the table.

In December 2019, the city announced the sale price at $325 million, later reduced to $320 million. The city said the price could be adjusted for development credits but did not say how much, although The Times reported then that the actual price could be half the announced rate. Nine months later, the city announced the actual cash price: $150 million.

California’s state housing agency is urging the Anaheim City Council to reject a revised development agreement for the Angel Stadium property.

And last month, the city announced a settlement with the state: more affordable housing in the city, but less on the stadium site. It was not until this month that the city disclosed how much less: about 80%.

In March, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled that the city had not violated the Brown Act — the state’s open government law — in negotiating the sale. The citizens’ group that filed suit against the city had asked a judge to nullify the sale.

“There is no basis to nullify the decision,” Judge David Hoffer wrote in his ruling.

But, according to Adkins, Sidhu’s actions “may have affected the ruling” because a cooperating witness said Sidhu gave him information about a land appraisal so he could share that information with the Angels. Because that information came from a closed session of the city council, Adkins wrote, “Sidhu’s actions may have violated the Brown Act.”

Adkins said he believed Sidhu “knowingly provided confidential information intended for the sole use of Anaheim and its negotiating team to the Angels … with the intent of concealing his actions from the negotiating team and the public, for the purpose of assisting the Angels and himself at the expense of the city of Anaheim.”

Angels owner Arte Moreno attends a game.
Angels owner Arte Moreno
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Sidhu, according to the affidavit, met with a witness who was cooperating with the FBI investigation, although the mayor was unaware the person was an FBI source, and coached the witness to lie to the county grand jury about what the two had discussed and when they had discussed it.

The evidence, according to the affidavit, also showed Sidhu pursued an Arizona address to register his helicopter, despite the fact that he lived in Anaheim and based the helicopter out of Chino.

Had he registered the helicopter in California, he would have owed $15,888 in sales tax. Had he registered the helicopter in Arizona, he would have owed a $1,025 vehicle tax.

Adkins said there was no record of Sidhu registering the helicopter in either state.

On Monday afternoon, just before news of the affidavit broke, the city councilman who has been the most vocal opponent of the stadium deal – primarily because of what he considered a rushed and secretive process – said he was interested that the state housing agency had taken a renewed interest in the stadium deal.

The state housing agency told the Los Angeles Times on Friday it objected to the city’s proposed solution to violations of affordable housing law: absolving Moreno of almost all of his commitment to build affordable housing there.

Moreno’s development company would return $96 million in credits from the $320-million sale – so the city could say taxpayers had not paid the $96 million -- but the company had the potential to make more money from the hundreds more units of housing it could sell at market rate.

“What I was most concerned about seems to be playing out,” said councilman Jose Moreno, no relation to the Angels owner.

“At the end of the day, out of this illegal land sale, Arte Moreno and the city of Anaheim’s leadership are continuing to maximize the private profits for Arte Moreno and the private interests of the development site, and not looking out for the public benefits.”

Within two hours, he and everyone else at City Hall had learned the mayor was under investigation for corruption. Sidhu has not been charged with a crime.

This, Jose Moreno said, called for a complete do-over of the stadium deal.

“The news of Mayor Sidhu’s alleged political corruption regarding the Anaheim Stadium deal is both unfortunate and tragic,” Moreno said.

“My hope for the people of Anaheim is that this matter is fully investigated and brought to closure so we can move on developing a more open, transparent and legal land deal that truly benefits the people of Anaheim and puts trust back into our local affairs.”

Times staff writer Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report.


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