Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, who championed the sale of Angel Stadium to a company controlled by the team’s owner, has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges stemming from the since-scuttled deal.
The charges against Sidhu in a plea agreement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana include lying to FBI agents about not expecting to receive anything from the Angels when the transaction closed — secret recordings captured him saying he hoped to secure a $1-million campaign contribution — and destroying an email in which he provided confidential information about the city’s negotiations to a team consultant.
The agreement offers an extraordinary look inside Sidhu’s years-long efforts to sell the stadium for $320 million that attracted local controversy and, eventually, the attention of the FBI. The efforts extended to a mock City Council meeting scheduled for September 2020 in advance of a real meeting about the sale to rehearse talking points, the agreement said, that was to include Sidhu, two unnamed City Council members, an Angels consultant, the team president, a team attorney and the then-president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
An email from the Angels consultant to Sidhu, Anaheim’s chief communications officer, Angels executives and others set a detailed agenda: “We will run through a mock Council session straight through one time at the start to identify pitfalls and areas of vulnerability.” The email noted that “[Angels] team available to help develop ‘zingers,’ responses and other points to improve performance” between mock sessions. The roles for each participant in the highly choreographed undertaking were outlined in the email.
The city’s mayor pro tem, for example, would play himself, focus on benefits such as parks, a grocery store and “Angels charity.” Sidhu would play himself, preside over the meeting and be “expected to be a strong defender of the deal and know its terms, at least at the policy level, well,” the email said.
Though it doesn’t identify the Angels consultant by name, details in the agreement and an FBI affidavit filed last year match prominent local lobbyist Jeff Flint. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sidhu, who pledged to “make Anaheim shine again” after being elected in 2018, resigned after the FBI’s sprawling public corruption investigation into Anaheim became public. At the time, he denied doing anything wrong. Now, he will plead guilty to obstruction of justice, wire fraud and two counts of making false statements.
“Mr. Sidhu was elected by and pledged to work for the residents of Anaheim, but he violated that pledge and their trust on numerous occasions to look out for special interests,” Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a statement.
An Angels spokesperson said, “It is important to note both the Plea Agreement along with the City’s investigation showed no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Angels Organization.”
The investigation surfaced in May 2022 when an Orange County Superior Court judge granted the state attorney general’s request to halt the sale of Angel Stadium and surrounding parking lots to the company controlled by Angels owner Arte Moreno.
The attorney general’s request included an affidavit for a federal search warrant completed by FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins alleging Sidhu, then the mayor, “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.”
During a meeting in December 2021 secretly recorded for the FBI by former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament, the mayor discussed his upcoming reelection bid as well as the Angels: “We’ll push for them at least half a million dollars. You know, for [Angels Representative 1] to say ‘no’ is bad.”
In a January 2022 conversation recorded by the FBI, Sihdu mentioned a million: “Because I am hoping to get at least a million … I’m going to be pushing for it. [Angels representative] actually asked me. He said, ‘What can I do for your election?’ I said, ‘Let me finish your deal first, and then we’ll talk about that.’”
When FBI agents interviewed Sidhu on May 12, 2022, the agreement said, he “falsely stated” that he expected “nothing” from the Angels after the stadium deal was completed, that he did not conduct city business from his personal email and that “he did not recall ever providing information about the Stadium sale to the Angels consultant during negotiations over that sale.”
“Defendant knowingly and willfully made these false statements with knowledge both that the statements were untrue and that his conduct was unlawful,” the plea agreement said.
The plea agreement said Sidhu destroyed emails related to the stadium sale. They include one sent from his personal email account to the Angels consultant and the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce in July 2020 with an attached document that contained “confidential negotiation information related to the potential sale of the stadium, discussion of issues related to price and other terms of the sale.”
“Defendant was using the Angels consultant and [the former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce president] to provide that confidential inside information to the Angels so that the Angels could use that information in the negotiations with the City to purchase Angel Stadium on terms beneficial to the Angels,” the plea agreement said.
In 2019, the agreement said, Sidhu had given a confidential appraisal range for the stadium to Ament, the chamber’s head, to give to the Angels before the appraisal was made public.
Two of the counts against Sidhu — false statements and wire fraud — are related to his purchase of a helicopter in October 2020. According to the plea agreement, Sidhu registered the helicopter at an Arizona address, despite residing in Anaheim, to avoid paying more than $15,000 in California sales tax.
The agreement marks the latest chapter in the wide-ranging federal corruption investigation that pulled back the curtain on a self-described “cabal” that federal officials allege tightly controlled Anaheim’s government. Leaders of the secretive group include Ament, Flint and, “to some extent,” Disneyland’s director of external affairs, according to federal affidavits.
Ament cooperated with authorities and pleaded guilty last year to multiple felonies, including wire fraud, making a false statement to a financial institution and subscribing to a false tax return. Melahat Rafiei, a former state Democratic Party official and campaign consultant, pleaded guilty in April to one count of attempted wire fraud. Neither has been sentenced.