FULLERTON – 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 agreed to a request by the state to pause the deal amid a federal corruption probe of Mayor Harry Sidhu.
Judge Glenn Salter granted the request by the state Attorney General’s Office, which had previously brokered 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 petition requesting a halt to the sale, pointing to the federal investigation that involves, in part, allegations that Sidhu was trying to leverage the deal to secure campaign contributions from the Angels.
“We are seriously concerned about new information we have received about this deal and are asking the court to pause its consideration of the stipulated judgment in light of this information,” a representative for the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.
City officials did not oppose the request to delay the settlement deal. The next hearing is set for July 14.
In an unusual move, the attorney general’s court papers included an FBI search warrant affidavit detailing elements of the federal probe, including two confidential informants, one of whom was wired to secretly record conversations with the mayor.
Sidhu’s attorney, Paul Meyer, declined to comment.
Just a few weeks ago, the Attorney General’s Office trumpeted an agreement with Anaheim that resolved a dispute over affordable housing in the stadium deal, which includes the stadium itself and surrounding parking areas. As part of the settlement, Anaheim agreed to set aside about $123 million for affordable housing throughout the city, with $96 million dedicated to the creation of affordable housing within the next five years, and the rest going toward 466 apartments on site at the stadium for low-income residents.
What had been in dispute was how much affordable housing should be created at the stadium site. City officials argued that affordable housing elsewhere in the city could be constructed faster than waiting on the Angel Stadium project to be completed. They said it could have taken up to 25 years to build affordable housing into the stadium deal because it would also require parking structures.
State officials, however, alleged a violation of the Surplus Land Act, which requires promotion of affordable housing on unused or underutilized public land in the state. But Anaheim officials argued it had a lease agreement with the Angels and it did not violate the Surplus Land Act.
The agreement between the city and 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 Arizona address that was not his so he could avoid paying $15,887.50 in California sales tax on a helicopter he bought. The FBI agent said Sidhu apparently also allegedly avoided paying sales taxes of $1,025 in Arizona.
The FBI also alleged in the affidavit — which sought emails and cell phone records — that Sidhu was illegally feeding insider information to Angels officials during the negotiations over the sale of the stadium property from the city to Moreno’s development company.
Sidhu used private emails and a cell phone to convey information, then deleted it to conceal his actions, the affidavit alleges. 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 start a political action committee and fund it with up to $1 million to help with the mayor’s re-election once the stadium deal was pushed through.
“… if the Angels deal goes through, by the end of the year, then I’m gonna ask ah, (Angels Representative 1). Right?” Sidhu allegedly told the informant. “I’ll just call (Angels Representative 1) up and say, “(Angels Representative 1), we need, we need at least half a million dollars of support for you to come with the IEs.”
That was a reference to “independent expenditures,” the agent said.
In another meeting with the informant the mayor allegedly said:
“Because I, I’ve said, you gotta at least, minimum of a million dollars to come up with my election. They have to. And of course, you know, if Disney, I mean, if Angels (stadium sale) would conclude next year is approved hopefully, we’ll push for them at least have a million dollars. You know, for (Angels Representative 1) to say `no’ is bad …”
The mayor was also accused of “coaching” the confidential informant to mislead an Orange County grand jury investigation of the stadium deal.
The agent also said he believes Sidhu may have tilted a key ruling from an Orange County Superior Court judge in a Brown Act violation lawsuit seeking to undo the stadium sale deal.
The affidavit said 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 of the questions asked by the Orange County grand jury right after he met with them.
“Because then, then we’ll meet and at least you’ll let me know what happened,” Sidhu allegedly told the informant.
Sidhu’s opponent for mayor, attorney Ashleigh Aitken, issued 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 millions of dollars short of its actual value.”
She said city officials should restart negotiations now.
Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, sent a letter to city officials Tuesday demanding a response to a Dec. 19, 2019, letter that requested more information about the stadium deal.
The lawmakers said the FBI search warrant leads them to “ask yet another pertinent 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 anticipate taking in the immediate future to remedy what appears to be an unfair, collusive sale?”
Umberg and Daly said they hoped that city officials in the next two months “use this time to review the details of this rip-off. It’s important this is done in a manner that is open and transparent to the 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- upon sale price of $325 million was much less than the property’s appraised value of $500 million.