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Legal

Former Anaheim Mayor pleads guilty to charges over Angel Stadium scandal

Angel Stadium in Anaheim, USA

Featured image credit: CrispyCream27/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size

Angel Stadium in Anaheim, USA

Featured image credit: CrispyCream27/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size

The former Mayor of Anaheim, Harry Sidhu, is facing a lengthy prison sentence after agreeing to plead guilty to federal felony charges connected to the proposed sale of Angel Stadium to the owner of Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Los Angeles Angels.

The United States Attorney’s Office said Sidhu pled guilty to charges concerning obstructing an FBI public corruption investigation by destroying evidence and for making false statements to FBI agents. The 66-year-old also admits cheating California tax authorities and making false statements to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in relation to his purchase of a helicopter.

Federal prosecutors have filed a criminal information charging Sidhu with one count of obstruction of justice, one count of wire fraud, and two counts of making false statements to the FBI and the FAA. In a plea agreement, Sidhu agreed to plead guilty to the four offenses.

In May 2022, the Angels agreed to a request from Anaheim City Council to cancel a deal to sell Angel Stadium. Earlier, the council voted to void an agreement to sell the stadium amid a public investigation into the transaction. It came after Sidhu resigned as Mayor after it had emerged that the $320m (£251.5m/€294.5m) sale of the venue had been put on hold while an investigation was carried out.

Court documents at the time accused Sidhu of soliciting a donation of approximately $1m to his re-election campaign as the City of Anaheim discussed the sale of the stadium and surrounding land to SRB Management, the company of Angels owner Arte Moreno. It transpired that the original $320m comprised only $150m in cash, while plans for affordable housing were cut considerably.

The Angels have played in Anaheim since 1966. The City of Anaheim built what is today Angel Stadium of Anaheim in 1966 and has owned it since. The sale would have ended 50-plus years of city stadium ownership and put any future maintenance, renovation or stadium construction costs solely in the hands of SRB Management. The plan, which would have kept the Angels in Anaheim until at least 2050, also called for a renovated Angel Stadium, or a new 45,000-seat stadium.

According to his plea agreement, Sidhu – a longtime member of the Anaheim City Council who was elected mayor in 2018 – admitted that while the City of Anaheim was negotiating the sale of Angel Stadium to the Angels, he sought out and became a member of the city’s negotiating team for the stadium sale.

While on the negotiating team, Sidhu provided confidential information belonging to the city to people working for the Angels, so that the Angels could buy Angel Stadium on favourable terms for the baseball club. After secretly providing the information he had received in his position as Mayor, Sidhu later was recorded saying he expected a $1m campaign contribution from the Angels after the club purchased Angel Stadium.

“While serving as Anaheim’s Mayor, Mr. Sidhu took a series of actions that compromised the city’s negotiating position by providing confidential information and secretly working to influence the city’s decision-making process – all of which had a detrimental effect on the city and its residents,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Joseph T. McNally.

“Public confidence in the integrity of public officials is critical to our society. This office will continue to root out public officials who compromise their integrity.”

Donald Alway, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, added: “Mr. Sidhu was elected by and pledged to work for the residents of Anaheim, but he violated that pledge and their trust on numerous occasions to look out for special interests.

“Mr. Sidhu deceived his colleagues and weakened the city’s official strategy by divulging intellectual property, then lied to the government when his corruption was discovered.”

Sidhu admitted that he knowingly destroyed evidence by deleting multiple email messages and documents with the intent to impede and obstruct the FBI’s investigation of public corruption related to the city’s attempted sale of Angel Stadium.

In the plea agreement, Sidhu specifically admitted he deleted an email message he had sent on July 21, 2020, with an attachment drafted by lawyers for the city, which contained confidential negotiation information related to the potential sale of Angel Stadium, including a discussion of issues related to price.

Sidhu also admitted in his plea agreement that he deleted a September 2020 email message about secret mock Anaheim City Council meetings involving Sidhu, two other City Council members and representatives of the Angels – including the team president and a team lawyer.

Those mock City Council meetings would have preceded a scheduled public City Council meeting about the city’s proposed sale of Angel Stadium. The deleted email message had an attachment titled “Angels Council Debate Prep,” which detailed the topics on which each participant of the mock City Council meetings should focus, and it added “(Angels) team available to help develop ‘zingers’, responses, and other points to improve performance.”

Sidhu also admitted he had provided a confidential appraisal range to the Angels in 2019, months before the appraisal was made public. During the investigation, FBI agents secretly recorded multiple statements by Sidhu about the $1m campaign contribution that he expected to receive after the City of Anaheim sold Angel Stadium to the Angels, the plea agreement states.

Sidhu also admitted that he lied about the Angel Stadium sale negotiations and related matters when FBI agents interviewed him on May 12, 2022. Sidhu also admitted to lying about using his personal email for city business.

Sidhu is expected to make his initial appearance in United States District Court in Santa Ana later this month. Once Sidhu enters his guilty pleas, he will face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for the obstruction of justice count, up to 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud count, and up to five years in federal prison for each false statements count.

Commenting on the latest development in the case, an Angels spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times: “It is important to note both the Plea Agreement along with the City’s investigation showed no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Angels Organisation.”