A team of independent investigators has released its long-awaited report on allegations of political corruption in Anaheim. The 350-page document is available here. Voice of OC has also compiled an excellent summary of the findings.
JL Group investigators say they were frequently stonewalled as they sought to uncover the truth. Disney and the Angels were uncooperative throughout much of the investigation, according to the report. Chamber of Commerce President Laura Cunningham refused to provide requested documents. And Anaheim police refused to help investigators unlock city-issued phones.
It’s little wonder why. The report details “potential criminal conspiracy” involving former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament and others. The investigators found evidence of fraud, secret lobbying, and influence peddling to benefit large companies like Disney.
The report lays bare the corrupt relationship that existed between the City of Anaheim and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, which it refers to as a virtual “money laundering operation.”
Contracts were given to the Chamber with little accountability, which was part of the plan.
“It appeared to us, based on our investigation, that there was seemingly no real bargained-for exchange between the City and the Anaheim Chamber concerning the payment of these funds,” investigators wrote. “It was as if the City was merely subsidizing the Anaheim Chamber with infusions of money on a near-yearly basis.”
The report goes on:
“[Mayor Sidhu] had a close connection to Ament and the Anaheim Chamber and engaged in what could only be described as influence-peddling through Ament. The evidence pointed to the fact that individuals who wanted to meet with the mayor had to first go through Ament and then pay some form of tribute in order to reach Mayor Sidhu. This could include donations to political organizations, joining the Anaheim Chamber, or participating in other pet projects favored by then Mayor Sidhu.”
Visit Anaheim — the nonprofit that promotes local tourism — was also part of the scheme, according to investigators. $1.5 million in COVID-19 relief money given to the project was unlawfully funneled to a Chamber-affiliated nonprofit as part of a “conspiracy.”
Visit Anaheim was also used as a powerful data mining tool to target the the city council's political minority. Here’s how it worked:
Visit Anaheim gathered the personal information of residents, ostensibly to receive community input on future development projects. That personal information was then turned over to the Chamber of Commerce, businesses, and the council members who promised to support them. The information was then weaponized during elections.
We’ve only touched the surface of the findings. We encourage readers to check out the report in its entirety.
Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken wrote the following in a statement:
“The report released today is further confirmation that the actions of former Mayor Harry Sidhu and those who enabled him were not reflective of incompetence, but instead conscious acts of fraud, greed, and deception."
Aitken announced she will form an advisory committee to review the findings and develop “concrete reforms.”