Disney power broker at the heart of Anaheim ‘cabal’

An FBI affidavit released last week identified an unnamed, influential company employee as a key participant in directing the Anaheim government’s “cabal”.

Employees of the company, referred to as “Company A” in affidavits as part of a federal public corruption investigation, helped write a statement read by an elected official before the City Council quit. coupons and provide input on who to invite to secretly withdraw to community power brokers.

Company A is Disneyland Resort, according to a person familiar with the investigation, and staffed by Disneyland Resort’s Director of External Relations, Carrie Nocella.

Although neither the company nor Nocella have been accused of wrongdoing, their connection to the wide-ranging investigation that led to Harry Sidhu’s resignation as mayor of Anaheim on Monday underscores the enormous influence The company’s holdings are in a city of 350,000 people whose budget is fueled by millions of visitors. every year to Disneyland Resort.

The company has long played a dominant role in Anaheim politics. Several current and former council members, local activists and a past mayor say Disneyland Resort has split its influence into lucrative tax breaks at the expense of residents. friendly cities and politicians with generous donations. Disney has pushed back against such criticism, arguing that the resort provides the city with an important economic engine and a job generator.

But court filings provide an unusually detailed inside look at how the company worked to shape events out of public view.

Councilman Jose Moreno said Disneyland’s influence on the city was obvious to anyone paying attention.

“That would be the worst kept secret in town,” he said.

In response to a question from The Times about identifying it as Company A, Disney said in a statement that, “We have seen media reports about the complaint and none of the authorities Contact us about it.” Nocella, who deleted her Facebook and Instagram accounts last week, declined to comment.

Company A came to light in a 99-page affidavit by FBI Agent Brian Adkins supporting a criminal complaint alleging Todd Ament, the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, lied to a lender. Mortgage.

The agent wrote that Ament and an unnamed political consultant “were the ringleaders of a small group of individuals who met face-to-face to discuss strategy around a number of issues in Anaheim—issues that often pending, or will soon be resolved, before the City of Anaheim. Council,” wrote Adkins.

The affidavit describes Company A’s employee – Nocella – as one of the group’s leaders “to some extent”.

Prior to a confidential meeting of Anaheim business leaders, consultants and politicians in December 2020, Adkins alleged that Company A employees provided input to Ament and the key consultant. about who to invite.

The consultant’s details in the affidavit match that of Jeff Flint, managing director and senior partner at FSB Public Affairs, who has represented Disneyland Resort. Flint, who announced last week that he would be leaving his job as CEO, denies doing anything wrong.

During a wiretapped phone call on November 30, 2020, between the consultant and an Anaheim politician identified as Elected Official 1, the politician asked if the two colleagues had been invited to participate. attend the course or not.

“No, I talked about it with Todd [Ament] and [Company A Employee],” said the political consultant. “We felt that for this first installment, we were going to keep the big picture and stick with um, with, um, [Elected Official 4] and [Elected Official 3]. … But, um, [Elected Official 2’s]you know, I think he’s in the team, but he’s going to get some management because he has competitive pressure. “

The subject line for the meeting invitation email from Ament’s assistant reads: “Withdraw 12/2020.” The event is scheduled to be held from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the JW Marriott in Anaheim with “social hours to follow up after.”

Anaheim City Councilors Stephen Faessel and Trevor O’Neil along with City Manager Jim Vanderpool have publicly acknowledged attending the retreat.

“As far as I remember, the main focus of this meeting was on how to get our economy reopened, our residents back to work, delivering essential products,” Faessel said. “This is exactly the meeting you would expect City leadership to have at the time. Sadly, I read with serious interest how this meeting was described. Obviously others may have gone into this with a different perspective than mine. “

The intercepted phone calls are detailed in the affidavit describing the meeting as anything out of the ordinary, as organizers strive to include trusted people – “family members only” and keep “close family” – while debating whether to invite a City Council member described as a possible “Double Agent.” Ament, at one point, called the group a “corpus”.

According to the affidavit, Nocella and Elected Official 1 were scheduled to attend the retreat.

Nearly four months later, Adkins writes, the political consultant drafted a script for the bond issue — with input from Company A Employees and Ament — for Elected Official 1 to read. at the City Council meeting on March 23, 2021. This is authorized up to $210 million in bonds to cover a revenue shortfall related to the pandemic.

Hours before the meeting, the political consultant texted Elected Officer 1’s assistant 1: Company A “requested to remove the reference to [Company A’s parking lot]. Will send to you. ”

Sidhu, then mayor, was the only elected official who spoke much about that agenda item during the meeting before it passed. Reading from prepared remarks, he referred to Disney in shining terms: “I am confident that Disney will continue to invest in Anaheim, strengthening our destination and ensuring Anaheim remains an attraction. the West Coast’s enduring top tourist.”

But an employee of Company A was unimpressed when texting the political consultant that the mayor “read your script too poorly,” according to the affidavit.

“Lol,” the political consultant replied. “He doesn’t practice.”

Sidhu was involved in the scandal in a separate affidavit supporting Adkins’ search warrant made public last week. It is alleged that he provided confidential information to the Angels of Major League Baseball at least twice during the city’s negotiations with the team over the $320 million sale of Angel Stadium – and hopes to receive a multi-million dollar campaign grant from the team. Sidhu denies wrongdoing. He has not been charged.

In a statement on Monday announcing his resignation, Sidhu’s attorney, Paul Meyer, wrote: “A fair and thorough investigation will demonstrate that [Sidhu] did not leak confidential information in the hope of contributing to a later campaign.”

Disneyland Resort has long benefited from Anaheim’s government relationship.

In 1996, city leaders agreed to issue a $510 million bond to finance, among other projects, the construction of a $108 million Mickey & Friends parking structure. The resort keeps its parking revenue intact, and Anaheim will transfer ownership of the garage to Disney after paying off the bond and $1.1 billion in interest.

In 2015, the City Council approved the protection of Disneyland from any potential taxes on ticket sales for 45 years, a huge revenue stream that could generate an estimated $1 billion in revenue or more for the city. Disneyland promises to build an expansion of the park’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – opening in 2019 – and another big project in the future. City officials granted the company a $267 million tax refund in 2016 for a luxury hotel.

Disneyland abandoned the hotel project in 2018 and asked the City Council to rescind their 45-year ticket sales tax protection. The resort did so when city voters passed a measure requiring any resort business that receives subsidies to pay its workers a living wage.

At the same time, Disney directed substantial campaign funds to influence city politics. The company contributed $1.3 million in 2021 to the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee, a group that includes business owners, community leaders and residents, according to campaign finance filings. for the non-election year.
In a profile on the University of the Pacific website in March, Nocella, who graduated from McGeorge Law School in 2002, recalled working at Disneyland Resort in high school and college long before taking on the role. current game.

“The best part about my job is being able to sit down with an elected official or a policymaker and share with them our views on certain issues and what we are doing. do in their community,” says Nocella. “That’s the key to success.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-05-24/disney-power-broker-anaheim-cabal-fbi-records-shows Disney power broker at the heart of Anaheim ‘cabal’

Edmund DeMarche

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