The City of Anaheim’s planned sale of Angel Stadium to team owner Arte Moreno’s company was halted for at least two months Tuesday by an Orange County Superior Court judge, who accepted a request for the state to suspend the agreement in the middle of a federal investigation into the corruption of the mayor. Harry Sidhu.
Judge Glenn Salter granted the request from the state attorney general’s office, which had previously negotiated a settlement with the city over the use of funds from the sale to provide affordable housing throughout the city.
The attorney general’s office filed the motion to stop the sale, pointing to the federal investigation that involves, in part, allegations that Sidhu was trying to leverage the deal to obtain campaign contributions from the Angels.
“We are seriously concerned about the new information we have received about this agreement and ask the court to suspend its review of the anticipated judgment in light of this information,” a representative from the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
City officials did not object to the request to delay the settlement agreement. The next hearing is scheduled for July 14.
In an unusual move, the attorney general’s court documents included an FBI search warrant affidavit detailing elements of the federal investigation, including two confidential informants, one of whom was wired to covertly record conversations with the mayor.
Sidhu’s attorney, Paul Meyer, declined to comment.
Just weeks ago, the attorney general’s office trumpeted an agreement with Anaheim that resolved a dispute over affordable housing in the stadium agreement, which includes the stadium itself and surrounding parking areas.
As part of the settlement, Anaheim agreed to set aside approximately $123 million for affordable housing citywide, with $96 million dedicated to creating affordable housing over the next five years, and the remainder going to to 466 on-site apartments at the stadium for low-income residents.
What had been disputed was how much affordable housing should be created on the stadium site. City officials have argued that affordable housing elsewhere in the city could be built faster than waiting for the Angel Stadium project to be completed. They said it would have taken up to 25 years to build affordable housing under the stadium deal, as it would also require parking structures.
State officials, however, alleged a violation of the Surplus Land Act, which requires the promotion of affordable housing on unused or underutilized public land in the state. But Anaheim officials argued he had a lease with the Angels and had not violated surplus land law.
The agreement between the city and the state resolved the issue, with the city not having to concede any violation of the Surplus Land Act.
In the affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins last week, Sidhu is accused of using an address in Arizona that was not his to avoid paying $15,887.50 in tax. California sale on a helicopter he purchased. The FBI agent said Sidhu also allegedly avoided paying $1,025 in Arizona sales tax.
The FBI also alleged in the affidavit – which searched for emails and cellphone records – that Sidhu unlawfully provided inside information to Angels officials during negotiations to sell the city stadium property to the Moreno development company.
Sidhu used private emails and a cellphone to transmit information, then deleted them to conceal his actions, according to the affidavit. The agent included a transcript of some discussions the mayor allegedly had with a confidential informant, who agreed to cooperate with authorities.
Sidhu allegedly told the informant, who was wearing a wire, that he was going to push the Angels to create a political action committee and fund it up to $1 million to help re-elect the mayor once the stadium agreement concluded.
“…if the deal with the angels materializes, by the end of the year, then I will ask ah, (rep of angels 1). Sidhu reportedly told the informant. “I’m just going to call (Angels Rep 1) and say, ‘(Angels Rep 1), we need at least half a million dollars in support for you to come with the IEs.’
It was a reference to “independent spending,” the agent said.
In another meeting with the informant, the mayor reportedly said:
“Because I, I said, you owe at least, minimum a million dollars to get to my election. They have to. And of course, you know, if Disney, I mean, if the angels (sale stadium) would make him conclude that next year is approved hopefully we’ll push for them to have at least a million bucks You know, for (angels rep 1) saying ‘no’ is bad … »
The mayor was also accused of “coaching” the confidential informant to mislead an Orange County grand jury investigation into the stadium deal.
The agent also said he believes Sidhu may have overturned a key decision by an Orange County Superior Court judge in a Brown Law violation lawsuit seeking to void the sale agreement of the stadium.
The affidavit indicates that one of the people allegedly involved in the negotiations is a nationally known political consultant.
The mayor is also accused of telling the confidential informant to write down all questions posed by the Orange County grand jury right after he met with them.
“Because then, then we will meet and at least you will let me know what happened,” Sidhu allegedly told the informant.
Sidhu’s mayoral opponent, lawyer Ashleigh Aitken, released a statement saying: “I am saddened that what was previously perceived by many as incompetence appears to be conscious acts of fraud, greed and deception.”
Aitken said the price negotiated by the mayor “was several million dollars below its real value.”
She said city officials should resume negotiations now.
Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, sent a letter to city officials on Tuesday requesting a response to a Dec. 19, 2019 letter requesting more information about stadium agreement.
Lawmakers said the FBI’s search warrant causes them to “ask another relevant and timely question. In light of allegations that the negotiator of this deal acted unscrupulously and outside the scope of his public office, what steps does the Anaheim City Council plan to take in the immediate future to remedy what appears to be an unfair and collusive sale?”
Umberg and Daly said they hope city officials over the next two months “will use this time to review the details of this scam. It’s important that this be done in an open and transparent manner for taxpayers.” and residents of Anaheim, and within the context and expectations of existing California law.”
In December 2019, the two lawmakers questioned how the then-agreed sale price of $325 million fell far short of the property’s appraised value of $500 million.