California Assemblyman Requests Urgent State Audit of Anaheim Following Corruption Probe Release

California Assemblyman Requests Urgent State Audit of Anaheim Following Corruption Probe Release

Anaheim City Councilman Avelino Valencia addresses a member of the public during the first Anaheim City Council meeting since the resignation of former mayor Harry Sidhu in Anaheim, Calif., on May 24, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

8/5/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Assemblyman Avelino Valencia (D-Anaheim), a former Anaheim city councilman, is asking the California State Legislature to approve an urgent state audit of his hometown after an independent investigation, released July 31, found evidence of potential criminal conspiracy and theft of public funds.
The assemblyman’s request, sent Aug. 3, asks a joint legislative audit committee to review public funds the city dispersed to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and Visit Anaheim—a tourism marketing nonprofit—named in the $1.5 million report by the JL Group, a Laguna Niguel workplace investigative firm retained by the Anaheim City Council after a recent FBI probe into former city officials.
According to JL Group investigators, in May of 2020—at former Mayor Harry Sidhu’s suggestion—the Anaheim City Council voted to give $6.5 million in the city’s COVID relief funds to Visit Anaheim for resort advertising.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu in Anaheim, Calif., on Jan, 13, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu in Anaheim, Calif., on Jan, 13, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Then, the tourism organization diverted $1.5 million of the funds to the chamber of commerce, according to investigators.
Such, the JL Group said, was evidence of “potential criminal conspiracy” and theft of COVID funds between Mr. Sidhu, the former CEO of the chamber, Todd Ament, and the CEO of Visit Anaheim, Jay Burress.
According to investigators, Mr. Sidhu directed Mr. Burress to divert $1.5 million of the pandemic funds to the chamber and that Mr. Ament instructed Mr. Burress to improperly report their origins, if asked.
A former city manager who questioned the payment was quickly fired by Mr. Sidhu, the investigators alleged.
Mr. Valencia was a member of the city council when the actions reportedly occurred.
“The findings of this report expand on the lack of transparency and abuse of public resources by corrupt individuals in Anaheim,” Mr. Valencia said in a statement following the report’s publication Aug. 1. “Former Mayor Harry Sidhu, and some of his closest allies, acted for personal and political gain at the expense of what was best for our city. Their behavior was disgraceful and inexcusable.”
The report, ordered after explosive corruption allegations were disclosed in an FBI affidavit in May 2022, claims Mr. Sidhu, Mr. Ament, and others engaged in “influence peddling.”
“After reviewing all the evidence made available to us, we concluded that several individuals related to this matter engaged in improper and at times unlawful conduct,” the JL Group wrote in the report. “It appeared clear, based on the greater weight of the credible evidence, that Mayor Sidhu engaged in an operation of influence peddling.”
Mr. Sidhu has not been charged or indicted for any crimes related to the FBI investigation or the report released July 31.
People participate in public comment at Anaheim City Hall in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

People participate in public comment at Anaheim City Hall in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Ament pleaded guilty in June 2022 to wire fraud in connection to allegations by the FBI of money laundering.
The report also mentioned Anaheim Chamber’s so-called Enterprise Zone Program, which the city awarded a five-year, no-bid contract for $1.8 million in February 2012, Mr. Valencia said in his letter this week.
The program was designed to provide tax credits to participating businesses that hired people from economically distressed areas. A year into the program, the chamber requested $1.1 million more.
“Key findings from the audit report noted that the Chamber had inefficient reporting requirements that did not ensure contract compliance and that the labor documentation was vague and did not follow standard practices for reporting staff hours,” Mr. Valencia wrote in the letter. “The investigative report concludes the Chamber took advantage of this opportunity to charge the City for program costs that were not adequately documented and potentially unjustifiable.”
The assemblyman said it was clear the city needed more oversight over the disbursement of public funds to the chamber of commerce and Visit Anaheim, “as they may have directly influenced City officials for personal and political gain at the expense of what was best for the city,” he wrote.
The requested audit cannot exceed $290,000, according to Mr. Valencia, and seeks to examine all sources of public funds the city dispersed to the chamber of commerce and Visit Anaheim over the past decade and how those funds were used.
He is also asking the auditor to identify all sources of money and how each dollar was spent by the city in regard to the chamber and Visit Anaheim.
A man attends an Anaheim City Council meeting while holding a sign criticizing Anaheim's Angels Stadium deal in Anaheim, Calif., on May 24, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A man attends an Anaheim City Council meeting while holding a sign criticizing Anaheim's Angels Stadium deal in Anaheim, Calif., on May 24, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Additionally, he is asking for an audit of COVID relief funds given to the two nonprofits and how the money was spent as well as an analysis of Anaheim public funds allocated to entities affiliated with the chamber or the tourism organization.
The audit would also examine the number of no-bid contracts the city awarded to the two organizations and determine if any public money was used for staff salary increases or compensation for consultants, lobbyists, contractors, or others during the COVID lockdown.
Finally, Mr. Valencia is also requesting an examination of public funds spent by Anaheim on negotiations of the Angels stadium and land sale, which was abandoned following the release of the FBI’s investigation in May 2022.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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