One of the leaders of a self-described “cabal” of politicians and political operatives exploiting the extended and exclusive reach they wield from their respective positions of influence and power in Orange County utilized opulent property in one of San Bernardino County’s primary resort communities to hide and launder some of the ill-gotten profits he accumulated as a consequence of his underhanded networking, according to the FBI.
An affidavit for an arrest warrant of Todd Arment completed by an FBI agent which became publicly available this week alludes to information culled from preexisting search warrants and surreptitious communication interceptions that offer a window on the inner workings of Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu,
other members of the Anaheim City Council, local businessmen and individuals involved in the City of Anaheim’s sale of Angel Stadium to Angel’s owner Arte Moreno leveraged at least in part, federal investigators allege, by the delivery of kickbacks and campaign contributions to politicians.
Though circumstances suggest that a bevy of Orange County politicians and business owners to whom they are connected are on the verge of facing indictment on a host of political corruption charges, the only individual within that circle yet criminally charged is Arment, the president and chief executive officer of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, the president of the chamber’s political action committee, the president of an entity known as Anaheim First, the president of the Anaheim Economic Development Corporation and the president of the Canyon Hills Community Council.
In Anaheim, the most populous city in Orange County and the host to Disneyland and Angel Stadium, two of Southern California’s major and most lucrative tourism draws/entertainment venues, there has been intensive controversy for decades over the degree to which the major league baseball team’s profitability is subsidized by the terms of its lease and use of the city-owned Angel Stadium. In December 2019, the City of Anaheim agreed to sell the stadium and surrounding land to a company affiliated with Moreno, SRB Management, for the then-agreed-upon price of $325 million, well below the property’s appraised value of $500 million as part of a guarantee that Moreno would undertake and on his own finance the reconstruction of the stadium and the development of a ballpark village around it. Concern that the deal hid a series of clauses and arrangements that redounded to the benefit of Moreno, his companies, his associates, his agents and his attorneys led to a settlement which called for the city setting aside $123 million from the deal 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 for low-income residents to be built in the ballpark village on the stadium site.
This gave rise to further disputes over how many of the affordable housing units would be located at the stadium site. Those units might not be in place for a quarter of a century, critics said, since the timetable for the stadium makeover was not set. Some city officials, arguing that affordable housing elsewhere in the city could be constructed much faster than waiting on the Angel Stadium project to be completed, opposed what was happening. State officials also alleged a violation of the Surplus Land Act, which requires promotion of affordable housing on unused or underutilized public land in the state. Anaheim officials asserted the lease agreement with the Angels did not violate the Surplus Land Act, and the deal could move forward.
In the meantime, a number of business interests were involved in the proposal, and there have been recurrent reports that in order to facilitate the deal and move it along, payoffs – bribes – have made their way to Anaheim city officials.
The FBI began to look into the matter beginning in 2019.
Within the last two weeks, there has been considerable movement with regard to that probe. Last week, the California Attorney General’s Office, which had been involved in arranging the settlement to have the city use the sale funds to provide affordable housing and had seemed to be in favor of the deal, reversed course precipitously when it filed a petition last week requesting a halt to the sale, referencing a federal investigation relating to Sidhu.
“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 spokesperson for California Attorney General Rob Bonta said. Accompanying the request to the Orange County Superior Court for a suspension of the deal was an out-of-the-ordinary presentation of documents disclosing activity of the FBI relating to the matter, including an FBI warrant affidavit revealing that one of the agency’s confidential informants had used an electronic device to secretly record conversations with Sidhu.
That affidavit was signed by FBI Agent Brian C. Adkins.
While the initial disclosure of the investigation into Sidhu emanated from the California Attorney General’s Office, this week further revelations were made by federal officials. A second affidavit completed by Agent Adkins was released the day Orange County Superior Court Judge Glenn Salter granted the request by Bonta to suspend the deal while the federal corruption investigation continues. The second Adkins affidavit makes clear that the questionable activity goes beyond that of Sidhu to other members of the city council as well as a slew of business interests in Anaheim. Among those others caught up in the matter is Todd Ament, the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and, by inference, political consultant Jeff Flint.
A federal criminal complaint against Ament alleging he had made false statements to a financial institution was filed on Tuesday, May 16. Contained within that complaint was Agent Adkins’ affidavit, dated May 16. The affidavit lays out Adkin’s narrative delineating how Ament involved himself with Flint in corralling the support and votes of Anaheim municipal politicians for various purposes, using questionable means of influence in doing so. Flint’s name is not used in the affidavit. Rather, he is referred to as a political consultant. By a process of elimination, Flint’s identity can be surmised. In the affidavit, the consultant is said to be “a principal partner of a nationally known political and public affairs company.” FSB Public Affairs is headquartered in the same building as the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, and the chamber was the company’s landlord. Flint is the chief executive and senior partner of FSB.
Ament, Flint and a limited set of other business leaders and Anaheim public officials and consultants came together to form what Ament and Flint could be overheard during telephonic exchanges referring to as a “cabal” or “family” which had periodic meetings, referred to as “retreats” at hotel suites, during which municipal management and the course of governmental affairs in Anaheim were discussed outside the earshot or view of the public. Indeed, according to Adkins, those private retreats involving exchanges between the consultants, businessmen and elected officials became the venue, as much or more than the actual open public meetings of the city council, at which decisions relating to city policy and actions were made.
Adkins’ affidavit describes multiple exchanges between Ament and Flint discussing arrangements to convene those retreats involving or potentially involving Anaheim City Council members who are not identified by name but rather as Elected Official 1, Elected Official 2, Elected Official 3, Elected Official 4, Elected Official 5, Elected Official 6 and Elected Official 7. The substance of Ament’s and Flint’s exchanges indicated that Anaheim’s elected officials – presumably the mayor and members of the city council – some more than others, were under the thumb and control of both Ament and Flint.
Adkin’s narrative in the affidavit alludes to actions to conceal the funneling of money to elected officials through consultants in a way that the origin of the money, in particular from business entities with items before the council, cannot be traced. The affidavit also relates that Flint drafted statements and speeches for members of the city council to make or present during council meetings to justify votes or actions by the city council that supported the awarding of contracts or the approval of contracts in which his clients had a stake. The intercepted phone calls reveal that at least one of the elected officials did not execute well in delivering the speech or prepared statements.
Much of what is disclosed in Agent Adkins’ affidavit was gleaned from cell phone exchanges between Ament and Flint. Both of their phones were tapped under a judge’s authorization for an earlier warrant obtained by Adkins.
In his capacity with the chamber of commerce, Ament has served as an advocate of a number of Anaheim-based businesses with Anaheim City Hall, including getting them permits and tax springbacks. He was also a key figure in lobbying the city to sell Angel Stadium to Moreno.
In the affidavit, Adkins makes a case that Ament and Flint exploited two unnamed cannabis business representatives who were seeking to establish operations in Anaheim by misleading them into thinking the city would license their proposed operations.
“The investigation has revealed that in 2019 and 2020, Ament and Political Consultant 1 [Flint] solicited funds from the cannabis client and Confidential Witness 1’s associate’s client in exchange for influence over a proposed cannabis ordinance in the City of Anaheim,” the affidavit states. “However, they were not given influence over drafting a proposed cannabis ordinance as promised.”
The two cannabis-related commercial applicants cooperated with Adkins in arranging to bribe two as-yet unidentified Irvine City Council members in return for passing municipal marijuana-related business ordinances favoring them, according to Adkins.
Ament and Flint also diverted money from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, according to Adkins. “Ament and Political Consultant 1 concealed the fact that a substantial amount appeared to be embezzled out of the chamber and into an entity controlled by Ament personally,” the affidavit states.
According to Adkins, Ament and his wife Lea purchased a five bedroom, seven bathroom, 5,500-square foot home on a 1.82-acre lot on Heritage Trail in Big Bear that was appraised at a value of roughly $1.65 million in December 2020. Ament underrepresented to his lender the actual purchase price, thereby qualifying for a loan he might not otherwise have gotten, according to Adkins, while simultaneously reducing the assessment on the property and the future taxes he would be obliged to pay. Adkins said Ament did this by using $200,000 which was directed to him by Flint as a hidden down payment to the home’s owner. The money used by Ament was due to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce as rent money on FSB Public Affairs’ office in the chamber of commerce’s building.
According to Agent Adkins, Ament actually paid $1.65 million for the home, but succeeded in making it appear that he had paid $1.45 million for it by making an unrecorded $200,000 out-of-escrow payment to the seller.
Of the $1,450,000 the Aments officially paid for the house, $1,159,000 was financed through JP Morgan Chase.
According to Adkins’ affidavit, “I further believe Ament and the seller entered into this agreement in an effort to accomplish the following: (1) assist Ament in obtaining approval for the loan by increasing his capital reserves, which, based on my training and experience, I know to be a critical consideration for any financial institution when funding a home loan; (2) lower Ament’s tax base on the Big Bear House, resulting in lower annual property taxes and thereby defrauding the people of San Bernardino County where the Big Bear House is located; (3) possibly lower the capital gains tax owed by the seller, dependent upon the cost basis, and; (4) lowering the closing costs to be paid by the seller (the real estate commission borne by the seller is typically 5-6% of the selling price of the property).”
In this way, according to Adkins, “Based on the above, I believe that there is probable cause to believe that Ament has committed the target offense,” the target offense being making a false statement to a financial institution.