Anaheim ballpark deal is among recent Southern state scandals
A corruption scandal unfolds in Anaheim, a town in Orange County known to be home to Disneyland.
Affidavits filed by federal investigators describe a tightly knit group of political and business figures — describing themselves as a “cabal” in an intercepted message — who wield life-or-death influence over major financial issues.
Todd Ament, the former chief executive of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and central figure in the alleged cabal, faces federal charges of lying about his assets when buying a vacation home in Big Bear Lake.
This case is an offshoot of the larger case being worked on, including the role Harry Sidhu may have played while he was mayor of Anaheim. Sidhu resigned last week and another personality, political consultant Melahat Rafiei, resigned as secretary of the California Democratic Party.
Jeff Flint, a longtime consultant to Republican candidates, took time off from his company after an FBI affidavit named an unnamed consultant as a cabal participant, but from his description he apparently pointed to Flint . Flint has denied any wrongdoing, as have others involved in the case.
A May 12 FBI affidavit, filed seeking warrants for Sidhu’s phone and electronic recordings, broadly outlines allegations of helicopter purchase fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering regarding the highly controversial sale of the city-owned ballpark to Angels owner Arte Moreno – a deal now pending.
However the Anaheim case plays out, it adds to an unsavory story of local government corruption in Southern California.
Every few years, another case breaks out. Scandals are so common in the dozens of small towns in Los Angeles County that State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon once called his district a “corridor corridor.”
A few miles north of Anaheim, in the City of Industry, another municipal scandal is making its way through the courts.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has charged four men, including former Sen. Frank Hill, with stealing $20 million the city advanced to a company for a solar power project that never got off the ground. been built.
The case stemmed from a battle between several cities for control of a 2,500-acre cattle ranch called Tres Hermanos in the Chino Hills, which was to be the site of the project.
Hill spent four years in prison three decades ago for his involvement in a Capitol corruption scandal. Others charged include William Barkett, scion of an influential Stockton family who had previously faced criminal and civil charges, attorney Anthony Bouza and Paul Philips, the former city manager of Industry.
The common denominator of these scandals, like the massive one involving the City of Bell 12 years ago, is that decisions by local governments can have huge economic consequences, from trash haul franchises to real estate developments. One aspect of the Anaheim scandal involves the city’s rules governing marijuana sales.
Those who can benefit from municipal actions have a clear motive to influence decision makers and often hire those with inside connections, such as campaign consultants. Venal officials, on the other hand, see others benefit from their decisions and justify that they are entitled to a share of the action.
So, one wonders who guards the municipal chicken coop?
Sometimes journalists do. The Bell scandal was uncovered by reporters from the Los Angeles Times. Sometimes local prosecutors do, as in the City of Industry case. Most of the time, however, it is up to the FBI and federal prosecutors to prosecute corruption cases.
We know of cases that have surfaced. We don’t know how many criminals got away with it.
Dan Walters is a CalMatters columnist.