Heads Roll In Anaheim Bribery Scandal As Mayor, State Secretary Resign

Harry Sidhu’s resignation came after the Anaheim City Council asked him to leave office last week amid federal bribery accusations

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu resigned from office on Monday amid a ballooning corruption scandal that federal investigators allege involved a so-called cabal of Orange County’s elite who committed a series of felonies, including fraud and bribery, as they sought to sell the city’s stadium and surrounding land to the Angels baseball team.

Sidhu’s resignation came after all six members of the Anaheim City Council asked him to leave office last week. This follows statements made by the FBI in an affidavit saying that the mayor is being investigated for bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. The mayor is alleged to have shared private information with Angels representatives in connection to the $320 million stadium sale—effectively “pushing the stadium deal through on more favorable terms for the Angels, “according to the affidavit— while hoping to receive a $1 million campaign donation in return.  

On Monday afternoon, a lawyer representing Sidhu denied any wrongdoing on his client’s part and said that he hopes “to continue to act in the best interests of Anaheim and allow this great city to move forward without distraction,” according to the Los Angeles Times.  

“A fair and thorough investigation will provide that [Sidhu] did not leak secret information in hopes of a later political campaign contribution,” attorney Paul Meyer said. “No closed session material, no secret information, was disclosed by Mayor Sidhu. The government affidavit confirms that Harry never asked for a political campaign contribution that was linked in any way to the negotiation process.”

In addition to the allegations of bribery, Sidhu is accused by the feds of attempting to obstruct an investigation into the deal by an Orange County Grand Jury. Sidhu, a Republican who took office in 2018, was the first person of color and first Sikh to take the office of mayor in Orange County’s largest city; his resignation is effective on Tuesday. 

But the first head to roll in the growing scandal came Sunday night with the resignation of State Party Secretary Melahat Rafiei, who is facing allegations of involvement in bribes surrounding the sale. A letter from Rafiei was sent to the leaders of the state and national Democratic Party late Sunday informing the chairs of each body that she’d be resigning from her position in California as well as from her role as a member of the Democratic National Committee. 

Rafiei has not admitted any culpability but did confirm to the party chairs that she was a confidential witness in the investigation into the offenses of alleged fraud, bribery, and witness tampering, among others, in the deal. The FBI said that one of the unnamed witnesses they’d spoken with “was complicit in corruption” but had “omitted material facts to investigators.” The FBI anticipated that the witness would no longer be cooperative. Rafiei was not named by the feds as this witness. 

“The controversy over my role is now a hindrance,” she wrote in her letter to the party chairs. “The rush to judgment that is all too prevalent in politics these days has made clear to me that, for now, the best course of action for me and for the party is to resign from my positions.”

The fast-moving scandal seems to involve a number of power players in Anaheim—an alleged, self-described cabal of the Orange County elite—including Todd Ament, the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. Ament was in court last week, accused of lying to an estate agent as he allegedly funneled his department’s money into his own bank account via a PR consultant’s firm; this, prosecutors allege, was done to get bank approval for a home in Big Bear. 

Jeff Flint of FSB Public Affairs, which represented Angels owner Arte Moreno and the Anaheim-based Disneyland Resort, took leave from his position as the chief executive and senior partner at the firm last week but denied involvement, too. 

“I have no hesitation in saying that I firmly believe I did nothing wrong nor illegal,” Flint said in a Wednesday statement. 

Angels’ owner Moreno has not been accused of any crimes. However, the scope of the allegations in An is still unclear and may involve a number of powerful and influential business owners and other elites in the OC cabal.

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