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Home / JL Group

Probe finds ‘potential criminal conspiracy’ by ex-mayor of Anaheim

An investigation into corruption at Anaheim City Hall found a “potential criminal conspiracy” regarding $1.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds and alleged former Mayor Harry Sidhu and a former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce participated in influence peddling, according to a report released Monday.

The 353-page report from the Laguna Niguel-based investigative firm JL Group detailed numerous lobbyist meetings that weren’t reported as required by the city, raised concerns about the close relationship between the city and Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and characterized Sidhu’s signature Anaheim First initiative as “nothing more than a fig leaf for potential future public corruption and the wrongful diversion of public funds,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The investigation led by retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Clay M. Smith began Aug. 10 and involved the review of nearly 1 million emails related to city staff operations, the review of more than 50,000 documents, a forensic examination of various electronic devices and a forensic accounting of political contributions, independent expenditures and their relationship to awards of city contracts and or agreements, according to the report.

Approximately 157 interviews with more than 120 witnesses was conducted.

The investigation determined the Anaheim First initiative “appeared to be the brainchild of” Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Todd Ament in “conjunction with the newly formed City Council districts.

“We determined that Anaheim First’s initial creation was a political data-mining operation wherein information from individuals attending and participating in local district meetings was captured and thereafter used improperly for political purposes,” the report said.

JL Group found that $1.5 million of $6.5 million in COVID-19 recovery funds sent to Visit Anaheim was diverted by Visit Anaheim to an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce-controlled nonprofit organization and “there was a conspiracy between Sidhu, Ament and Jay Burress,” the CEO and president of Visit Anaheim.

Ament pleaded guilty to four federal felonies last year as part of a deal to fully cooperate with the government.

Sidhu has not been criminally charged, and he has denied wrongdoing.

Sidhu announced his resignation May 23, 2022, effective the following day, saying he did not want to be a “distraction” as the FBI probes allegations he fed insider information to the Los Angeles Angels in the proposed sale of Angel Stadium in the hopes of a substantial campaign donation, as well as cheating on sales taxes for a helicopter he bought.

Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said 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.

“As a former federal prosecutor and a political target of Sidhu, I understand all too well the negative impact his tenure as mayor had on Anaheim. We must ensure that this scandal and the contents of the report lead to meaningful reforms so that corruption never again takes root at City Hall.

“I am in the process of creating a Mayor’s Advisory Committee — made up of government, community, business, and legal leaders — to thoroughly review the report and bring concrete reforms forward for discussion with the City Council.

“This will be a public-facing process, and I look forward to discussing it with the residents of our city in the weeks and months ahead. Together, we will rebuild public trust and work to make sure Anaheim’s city government lives up to its obligations to our residents.”

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