Anaheim City Council Votes To Investigate Itself Following FBI Corruption Probe
The city of Anaheim will fund an independent audit of campaign contributions to former Mayor Harry Sidhu and current city councilmembers following an FBI corruption probe that came to light in May.
The council voted 5-0 on Tuesday evening to hire the firm JL Group to carry out the investigation. Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Clay Smith will oversee it. The company estimates the audit could take six months.
Sidhu resigned in May after it became public that the FBI is investigating him for alleged corruption in connection with the sale — now canceled — of Angel Stadium.
"Frankly, what's really at stake here is, can we believe in our local democracy?" said Councilmember Jose Moreno, who abstained from the audit vote after one of the stadium bidders disclosed that an associate had previously contributed to Moreno’s election campaign.
The intent of the audit is to provide a measure of transparency to Anaheim residents after FBI warrants revealed what the agency called a "covert group" that wielded influence over city government. That group included Sidhu, former Chamber of Commerce leader Todd Ament, and a Disney executive, among others.
Several councilmembers who are up for reelection in November are referred to in the documents, though none have been formally accused of wrongdoing.
The documents also allege that Sidhu leaked confidential information to Angels baseball leaders while the city was negotiating the sale of Angel Stadium and surrounding land. In exchange, the FBI alleges, Sidhu planned to ask the Angels for a $1 million contribution to his re-election campaign.
Moreno, who is termed out this year, opposed the Angel Stadium sale, and has long criticized cozy relationships between city officials and Anaheim's big business interests. He said he's hopeful the investigation will be thorough and yield trustworthy findings, including uncovering what role, if any, city staff has had in the alleged pay-to-play culture in city government.
But Moreno also expressed skepticism. For one thing, the city council still wields control over the scope of the investigation.
"It's really tough to say that and think that what is playing out here will lead us to something that might allow the people of Anaheim to see how deep the control and the influence is by these deep-pocketed corporate interests in Anaheim led by the [Disney] resort district, among others," Moreno said.
Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil ultimately proposed, and others accepted, JL Group because it was the only bidder with no ties to Anaheim in terms of prior or current investigations or other relationships.
City staff initially estimated the audit would cost between $1.5 and $2.5 million, not including the judge's fee for oversight. However, JL Group indicated that its final price tag will likely be lower.