Anaheim City Council hires firm to investigate donations made to former mayor and councilmembers

The Anaheim City Council agreed this week to hire an outside firm to investigate all questionable campaign donations made to former Mayor Harry Sidhu or current council members following a state corruption probe related to the proposed sale of Angel Stadium.

The council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to hire JL Group, an Orange County-based investigative firm, to conduct the review, which officials said could be completed in about six months. Councilor Jose Moreno abstained.

The city also hired retired Supreme Court Justice Clay Smith to oversee the investigation. The internal investigation was prompted by a federal corruption probe that has resulted in the resignations of two prominent Orange County political leaders in connection with the proposed ballpark sale.

In May, Sidhu announced his resignation after being charged with bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering in an affidavit in support of a request for a search warrant earlier this month.

The FBI alleged in the search warrant affidavit that Sidhu gave the Major League Baseball Angels confidential information at least twice during the city’s negotiations with the team over the sale of the $320 million Angel Stadium — and hoped one Million dollar donation for the campaign to get team. The affidavit also accuses the mayor of obstructing an Orange County grand jury investigation into the deal.

Another prominent Orange County figure implicated in the investigation, Melahat Rafiei, announced that she would be stepping down as a member of the Democratic National Committee and Secretary of State as a result of the investigation.

Rafiei has identified herself as a confidential witness in the federal investigation. She had been arrested in 2019 on suspicion of federal bribery, but the complaint was dismissed after she agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

JL Group co-founder Jeff Love praised the firm’s list of former law enforcement officers and their experience with complicated homicide and RICO cases.

“We probably have around 300 years of experience in our company,” he said.

But it was the company’s lack of ties to the city or officials that apparently prevented the city council from choosing JL Group over three other companies that had applied to conduct the investigation.

“As we discussed what that might look like, it was clear to everyone here that we wanted to be able to conduct a completely impartial and unbiased investigation,” said Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil.

Council members said they hoped the probe would provide transparency for residents, even as an ongoing federal probe into corruption threatens to loom over the city.

According to the city’s employee report, costs of up to $2.5 million were expected. During Tuesday’s meeting, JL Group told the city council it could complete the investigation within six months at a cost of between $500,000 and $750,000.

Moreno was an outspoken critic of the relationship between city officials and influential and powerful business interests in the city, but chose to abstain after he said he discovered that one of the partners vying for the contract was years earlier for his campaign had donated. Anaheim City Council hires firm to investigate donations made to former mayor and councilmembers

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